With autism, the brain adapts to blood vessel problems by changing how it uses energy

Baptiste Lacoste OHRIDr. Baptiste Lacoste wants to find out what’s going wrong with the blood vessels in the autistic brain. His team was the first to discover that these blood vessels don’t work properly in mouse models of autism, and there’s some cellular evidence that this happens in humans as well. Now, in a new study published in Cell Reports, the team has found that blood vessel problems in this mouse model cause the brain to absorb glucose at a much higher rate than a neurotypical brain, consistent with less efficient metabolism. Glucose is a sugar that the body uses for energy, and the blood vessels control how much glucose gets into the brain cells. The team also found that the cells lining these blood vessels (known as endothelial cells) have fewer mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, because a genetic switch that controls their production is missing. This problem in the blood vessels forces the brain to change the way it uses energy, which may be causing the behavioural changes seen in autism. Now that they’ve identified this problem, Dr. Lacoste’s team is looking to bring back this energy switch. Their preliminary findings, presented at recent scientific conferences, suggest this may help normalize function in the autistic brain. 

Original research article:
Béland-Millar A, Kirby A, Truong Y, Ouellette J, Yandiev S, Bouyakdan K, Pileggi C, Naz S, Yin M, Carrier M, Kotchetkov P, St-Pierre MK, Tremblay MÈ, Courchet J, Harper ME, Alquier T, Messier C, Shuhendler AJ, Lacoste B. 16p11.2 haploinsufficiency reduces mitochondrial biogenesis in brain endothelial cells and alters brain metabolism in adult mice. Cell Rep. 2023 May 30;42(5):112485. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112485. Epub 2023 May 6. PMID: 37149866.