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Ground-breaking research on autism and Asperger's
MAPrc researchers have completed ground breaking research into autism and Asperger’s syndrome. This research helps us to better understand why people with these conditions often have difficulties in relating to other people.
Using cutting-edge neuroscience technologies including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the research team investigated “mirror neurons.” These are brain cells that become active when we do something, but also when we watch somebody do that same thing. It is thought that mirror neurons allow us to “put ourselves into other people’s shoes,” and thereby understand what they are thinking and feeling.
Researcher Dr. Peter Enticott says that the team found that people diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome activate their mirror neurons significantly less when watching other people, and that the lowest levels of mirror neuron activation are associated with increased autism symptom severity. The fMRI component of this research indicates that people with these conditions also experience mirror neuron activation in different regions of the brain when compared to those without autism or Asperger’s syndrome. It is possible that this activation occurs to compensate for reduced mirror neuron activity in more conventional mirror neuron brain regions.
In a separate study, these researchers are also nearing completion of the first stage of a clinical trial investigating whether TMS can improve social relating in adults with autism and Asperger’s disorder. Initial results are very promising, and some early findings will be published in the Journal of ECT in early 2011. The full outcomes of the study will be known during 2011.
This research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and NARSAD, the world’s leading charity dedicated to mental health research.