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Sluggish Cells

Oversized microglia underly problems with brain cell connections in an autism spectrum disorder mouse model

05 May 2020

Sluggish Cells

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has a wide-range of severities and symptoms – including problems with social interactions, communication and learning – and a similarly wide range of genes are linked to the condition. But, researchers have observed one fairly common pathology: a lack of synaptic pruning in the brain – a normal process in child development in which certain brain cell connections are eliminated, and others strengthened. And now, studies of mice carrying ASD-linked mutations have suggested a possible cause. In the animals’ brains, microglial cells, which are responsible for pruning, grew to such enormous sizes (right) compared to normal (left) that they were too big and sluggish to do their job. Curiously, the oversized cells and resulting pruning problems were only seen in male mice. While these animals may provide hints as to why ASD is more common in boys, for now the reason female mice were unaffected remains a mystery.

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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