London: Siblings of people with autism show a similar pattern of brain activity when looking at emotional facial expressions, according to a research conducted at the University of Cambridge. Researchers identified the reduced activity in a part of the brain associated with empathy and argue it may be a `biomarker` for a familial risk of autism, a universityrelease said. Dr Michael Spencer, who led the study from the University`s Autism Research Centre, said: "The findings provide a springboard to investigate what specific genes areassociated with this biomarker. The brain`s response to facial emotion could be a fundamental building block in causing autism and its associated difficulties." Findings have been published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. Previous research has found that people with autism often struggle to read people`s emotionsand that their brains process emotional facial expressions differently to people without autism.
The scans of those with autism revealed that the same areas of the brain as their siblings were also underactive, but to a greater degree. These brain regions included thetemporal poles, the superior temporal sulcus, the superior frontal gyrus, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the fusiform face area. Because the siblings without autism and the controls differed only in terms of the siblings having a family history of autism, the brain activity differences can be attributed tothe same genes that give the sibling their genetic risk for autism, the release said. Explaining why only one of the siblings might develop autism when both have the same biomarker, Dr Spencer said: "It is likely that in the sibling who develops autism additional as yet unknown steps such as further genetic, brain structure or function differences take place to cause autism." It is known that in a family where one child already has autism, the chances of a subsequent child developing autism are at least 20 times higher than in the generalpopulation. The reason for the enhanced risk, and the reason why two siblings can be so differently affected, are key unresolved questions in the field of autism research, and DrSpencer`s group`s findings begin to shed light on these fundamental questions. PTI
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