A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Summer, 2022 | Number 3, Volume 36

Abnormal proliferation seen in neural precursor cells in ASD

Abnormalities in neural precursor cells (NPCs) may play a key role in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a new study. 

NPCs are cells that produce three types of brain cells: neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes. NPCs form prenatally around weeks 8 to 24 of gestation. 

Robert Connacher and colleagues examined NPCs cultured from adult stem cells taken from five individuals with ASD. Three of the individuals had idiopathic autism, or autism due to unknown causes, while the other two had autism due to a genetic abnormality (a 16p11.2 deletion). Three of the individuals—one of those with idiopathic autism, and both of those with the gene deletion—exhibited macrocephaly, or an enlarged head size. 

The researchers found that NPCs cultured from the individuals with macrocephaly produced too many brain cells, while those cultured from the individuals who did not have macrocephaly produced too few brain cells. Study coauthor Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom comments, “The NPCs we studied from all samples showed abnormal proliferation, either ‘too little’ or ‘too much,’ which suggests that poor control of proliferation of brain cells is an important basis for ASD causation.” He adds, “In the future, once we have reproduced these studies and extended them, we also may be able to use this knowledge as a biomarker, which could signal when to introduce therapy, or to identify signaling pathways to target with drugs.”


Autism NPCs from both idiopathic and CNV 16p11.2 deletion patients exhibit dysregulation of proliferation and mitogenic responses,” Robert Connacher, Madeline Williams, Smrithi Prem, Percy L. Yeung, Paul Matteson, Monal Mehta, Anna Markov, Cynthia Peng, Xiaofeng Zhou, Courtney R. McDermott, Zhiping P. Pang, Judy Flax, Linda Brzustowicz, Che-Wei Lu, James H. Millonig, and Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, Stem Cell Reports, June 14, 2022 (free online). Address: Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, NJ 08854, [email protected]


“Stem cells either overproduce or underproduce brain cells in autism patients,” news release, Rutgers University, June 8, 2022.