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Novel Brain Cell Organoids Show Promise for Autism Research

A novel approach for the creation of brain cell organoids and their use for studying autism is reported in Nature Communications this week, shedding new light on the mechanisms underlying the disorder. Organoids hold promise for modeling human brain development and disease in vitro but carry a number of limitations that hinder their use, such as inconsistent cellular composition, unpredictable organization, and slow developmental maturation. Aiming to overcome these issues, a team led by University of Utah scientists devised a new method for generating human cortico-striatal organoids from stem cell-derived single neural rosettes (SNRs) and show that they are predictably organized, functionally mature, and capable of establishing functional neural networks. The researchers use the organoids to investigate the cortico-striatal development and deficits caused by the deficiency of an autism- and intellectual disability-associated gene called SHANK3, identifying specific molecular pathways disrupted by hemizygous deletion of the gene. "We propose that SNR-derived organoids can be used as a tractable platform for studying human cortico-striatal development and deficits associated with human neurodevelopmental disorders," the study's authors write.