NEW YORK, April 2 (UPI) -- Autism may be caused by impaired regulation of the locus coeruleus, a bundle of neurons in the brain stem that processes sensory signals, U.S. researchers say.
Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University say the new theory stems from decades of anecdotal observations that some autistic children seem to improve when they have a fever, only to regress when the fever ebbs.
"On a positive note, we are talking about a brain region that is not irrevocably altered. It gives us hope that, with novel therapies, we will eventually be able to help people with autism," Dr. Mark F. Mehler, the theory's co-author, said in a statement.
Purpura and Mehler believe that, in autistic children, fever stimulates the LC-NA system, temporarily restoring its normal regulatory function. The LC-NA system is the only brain system involved both in producing fever and controlling behavior, Dr. Dominick P. Purpura, the co-author, added.
The researchers do not advocate fever therapy -- fever induced by artificial means -- which would be an overly broad, and perhaps even dangerous, remedy. Instead, the future of autism treatment probably lies in drugs that selectively target certain types of noradrenergic brain receptors or, more likely, in epigenetic therapies targeting genes of the LC-NA system, the researchers say.
The findings are published in the Brain Research Reviews.