A team led by UT Southwestern researchers has identified brain circuitry that plays a key role in the dysfunctional social, repetitive, and inflexible behavioral differences that characterize autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The findings, published online this week in Nature Neuroscience, could lead to new therapies for these relatively prevalent disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 1 in 54 children in the U.S. have ASD, a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although researchers have identified some key genes and pathways that contribute to ASD, the underlying biology of these disorders remains poorly understood, says Peter Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of neurology and neurotherapeutics, neuroscience, pediatrics, and psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a member of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. 
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