Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Study shows a solitary mutation can destroy critical 'window' of early brain development

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have shown in animal models that brain damage caused by the loss of a single copy of a gene during very early childhood development can cause a lifetime of behavioral and intellectual problems.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, sheds new light on the early development of neural circuits in the cortex, the part of the brain responsible for functions such as sensory perception, planning and decision-making.

The research also pinpoints the mechanism responsible for the disruption of what are known as "windows of plasticity" that contribute to the refinement of the neural connections that broadly shape brain development and the maturing of perception, language, and cognitive abilities.

The key to normal development of these abilities is that the neural connections in the brain cortex—the synapses—mature at the right time.

In an earlier study, the team, led by TSRI Associate Professor Gavin Rumbaugh, found that in mice missing a single copy of the vital gene, certain synapses develop prematurely within the first few weeks after birth. This accelerated maturation dramatically expands the process known as "excitability"—how often brain cells fire—in the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory. The delicate balance between excitability and inhibition is especially critical during early developmental periods. However, it remained a mystery how early maturation of brain circuits could lead to lifelong cognitive and behavioral problems.

The current study shows in mice that the interruption of the synapse-regulating gene known as SYNGAP1—which can cause a devastating form of intellectual disability and increase the risk for developing autism in humans—induces early functional maturation of neural connections in two areas of the cortex. The influence of this disruption is widespread throughout the developing brain and appears to degrade the duration of these critical windows of plasticity.

"In this study, we were able to directly connect early maturation of synapses to the loss of an important plasticity window in the cortex," Rumbaugh said. "Early maturation of synapses appears to make the brain less plastic at critical times in development. Children with these mutations appear to have brains that were built incorrectly from the ground up."

The accelerated maturation also appeared to occur surprisingly early in the developing cortex. That, Rumbaugh added, would correspond to the first two years of a child's life, when the brain is expanding rapidly. "Our goal now is to figure out a way to prevent the damage caused by SYNGAP1 mutations. We would be more likely to help that child if we could intervene very early on—before the mutation has done its damage," he said.

The first author of the study, "SYNGAP1 Links the Maturation Rate of Excitatory Synapses to the Duration of Critical-Period Synaptic Plasticity," is James P. Clement of TSRI. Other authors include Emin D. Ozkan, Massimiliano Aceti and Courtney A. Miller, also of TSRI. For more information, see

This work was supported by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (grant R01NS064079), the National Institute for Mental Health (grant R01MH096847) and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (grants R01 DA034116 and R03 DA033499).

Eric Sauter | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>