Skip to main content

Research News

Unmasking Roots of Autism

Tejada-Simon's Research on Role of Rac1 Protein in Fragile X Syndrome, Other Forms of Autism Draws Best Presentation Honors

UH College of Pharmacy's Maria V. Tejada-Simon, Ph.D., M.Ed., associate professor, is working to unmask the roots of Fragile X Syndrome and other autism-related cognitive and learning disorders by studying the role of a specific proteint hat appears to have a significant impact on the neural architecture and long-term brain development.

mv-tejada-simon13.jpgTejada-Simon's presentation of her lab's latest findings, "Searching for new possibilities to target neuro-developmental disorders associated with cognitive disabilities," was recognized as the Best Presentation at the 3rd International Conference and Exhibition on Neurology & Therapeutics Sept. 8-10 in Philadelphia, Pa. 

In the process of cognitive development, the brain's synapses undergo changes -- known as synaptic plasticity -- which is an essential process for the formation of memories. The process of physical, functional and chemical growth and change has been reported to be abnormal in several autistic disorders, including a genetic form of autism known as Fragile X Syndrome. Synaptic plasticity occurs through a biochemical process called actin cytoskeleton remodeling, which involves a specific protein known as Rac1, and is affected by the form and structure of the dendritic spines in the neural network where electrical signaling takes place. 

"Although the functional role of Rac1 in adult neuronal signaling is relatively unknown, our work has revealed that Rac1 is necessary for long-term plasticity in the hippocampus - a part of the brain that is crucial for learning and memory - and regulation of the Rac1 protein is altered in a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome," Tejada-Simon said.

Tejada-Simon said that inhibiting Rac1 function in the animal model resulted in improvements in cognitive function, suggesting that Rac1 hyperactivity may play an important role in Fragile X Syndrome and other similar autism-related cognitive disorders.