In recent years, doctors have seen an increased number of children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. In fact, about one in every 36 children in the USA has been diagnosed with autism, according to the CDC, and schizophrenia affects almost 24 million, or one in every 300 people around the world.
Due to this unfortunate phenomenon, one research team decided to conduct a study to analyze the brains of young children, and specifically, brain inflammation in their young and underdeveloped brains to better understand these growing disorders.
The study was conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) on 17 cadavers of children who died between the ages of one and give; eight of them died from inflammation conditions and nine passed away from an unforeseen accident.
One of the scientists on the team, Professor Margaret McCarthy, explained that she and the other researchers used single-cell genomics to study the brains of the deceased children, directly comparing those who died in an accident to those who lost their lives due to inflammatory conditions such as bacterial infections or asthma.
Though none of the children had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder before they passed, the study found something extremely interesting. First, they found that early brain inflammation stops other neurons from maturing. The research team also noted two specific and rare neurons called the Golgi and Purkingje neurons, which were present in those with brain inflammation.
While studying the 17 brains, the research team also paid close attention to the cerebellum, a region in the brain that handles a person’s motor control and cognitive functions such as language, emotions, and social skills.
The scientists already knew that children with underdeveloped or abnormal cerebellums were prone to form neuro disorders. Study co-leader Dr Seth Ament explained, “We looked at the cerebellum because it is one of the first brain regions to begin developing and one of the last to reach its maturity, but it remains understudied.”
Now, with the new research, these scientists have a much better understanding as to how inflammatory conditions affect the neurons and the development of the cerebellum in young brains. And this information is incredibly important in not only understanding, but also treating neurodevelopmental disorders in young children.
While the researchers from UMSOM have not yet announced just how their study may be able to prevent and treat disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, there is no doubt that their collected data will certainly be used for further research on exactly that.
Doctors, scientists, and researchers from around the country and the world will continue to study young brains in order to further discern how these disorders occur. And, of course, the hope is that by better analyzing this data, doctors may actually be able to slow the ever growing number of children contracting a neurological disorder such as autism or schizophrenia.