Carnitine and Autism Risk

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Move over folic acid, there’s a new nutrient on the prevent-birth-defects block. Researchers at Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine investigated the link between carnitine and risk for autism. This compound is needed to transport fatty acids into the cells’ energy powerhouses, the mitochondria. Previous studies showed that inherited mutations in a gene called TMLHE required for carnitine synthesis are linked with autism-spectrum disorders. Using technology allowing the researchers to mark, follow, and analyze individual neural stem cells in the developing brain, the researchers found that neural stem cells unable to produce carnitine did not behave normally and were eliminated from the brain. But, when genetically at-risk neural stem cells were supplied with supplementary carnitine, they functioned normally. The researchers conclude that, “…inborn errors in carnitine production cause significant issues in a cell type [we]believe contributes to autism risk.” The researchers also caution that, “even if this strategy works, it will not be a panacea for reducing all autism risk.” But, it could be effective for those cases involving carnitine deficiency.

Bankaitis V: Inborn errors of long-chain fatty acid beta-oxidation link neural stem cell self-renewal to autism. Cell Reports 2016; January 28th.

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