THE first clinical trial aimed at boosting social skills in people with autism using magnetic brain stimulation has been completed – and the results are encouraging.
“As a first clinical trial, this is an excellent start,” says Lindsay Oberman of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, who was not part of the study.
People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder often find social interactions difficult. Previous studies have shown that a region of the brain called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) is underactive in people with autism. “It’s also the part of the brain linked with understanding others’ thoughts, beliefs and intentions,” says Peter Enticott of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
Enticott and his colleagues wondered whether boosting the activity of the dmPFC using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which involves delivering brief but strong magnetic pulses through the scalp, could help individuals with autism deal with social situations. So the team carried out a randomised, double-blind clinical trial – the first of its kind – involving 28 adults diagnosed with either high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome.