Scientists may be one step closer to unlocking the mystery of autism with new research just released that shows a link between the disease and connections in the brain.

The research, from the University of California, Los Angeles, shows for the first time how a gene linked to autism rewires the brain's connections. In children with the gene, the brain's frontal lobe — the area of the brain that plays a key role in learning — is poorly linked to the rest of the brain, according to a report on the study, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine

Brain scans revealed children who carry the gene variant appear to have more nerve cell "connections" within the frontal lobe but they also have fewer connections between this area and the rest of the brain, particularly the areas controlling speech and language.

According to Ashley Scott-Van Zeeland, one of the study's lead researchers, "In children who carry the risk gene, the front of the brain seems to mainly talk to itself.  'It doesn't communicate as much with other parts of the brain and lacks long-range connections to the back of the brain.'

Understanding how the CNTNAP2 gene is linked to autism could lead to new tests for the condition. It could also help with the design of medication that could be used to strengthen the connections between brain regions.

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