Autism Month: Why the aversion to touch and resistance to pain?

Autism Month: Why the aversion to touch and resistance to pain?

From left to right: Artur Kania and Reza Sharif-Naeini.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism is a complex, poorly understood and stigmatizing broad-spectrum disorder that affects at least 1.5% of the population, and its incidence is growing.

The IRCM is involved in the quest to understand the mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorders. Among the hopeful projects, Dr. Artur Kania's team, along with that of Dr. Reza Sharif Naeini of McGill University, is working to understand a disabling aspect of many children with autism, for whom the perception of touch seems to be an unpleasant, even painful experience.

Immune-mediated sensory deficits underlie the social and communication impairments in Christianson syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder in which children have a high tolerance for pain and an aversion to touch. Proper maturation of these two sensory functions occurs in the spinal cord during the first few weeks after birth. 

The researchers hypothesize that in children with Christianson syndrome, a disruption of immune cell activity in the spinal cord and later the proper maturation of cortical circuits involved in social and communication functions prevent the normal maturation of touch and pain, resulting in high pain tolerance and touch aversion. This work, funded by the Azrieli Foundation, examines how these neuro-immune interactions influence spinal cord development and whether they can be reversed by genetic supplementation.

It is easy to understand the benefits that such a breakthrough could generate.

Thank you to our researchers for working tirelessly to advance the science that leads to understanding and ultimately to a cure.

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