Newborn Foals Could Offer Clues About Autism

Researchers at UC Davis are exploring a possible link between neonatal maladjustment syndrome and childhood autism.
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Veterinary researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), are teaming up with their colleagues in human medicine to investigate a troubling disorder in newborn horses and are exploring possible connections to childhood autism. The common link, the researchers suggest, could be abnormal levels of naturally occurring neurosteroids.

The equine disorder, known as neonatal maladjustment syndrome, has puzzled horse owners and veterinarians for a century. Foals affected by the disorder seem detached, fail to recognize their mothers, and have no interest in nursing.

“The behavioral abnormalities in these foals seem to resemble some of the symptoms in children with autism,” said John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, ACAW, a UC Davis veterinary professor and expert in equine neonatal health.

The maladjustment syndrome in foals also caught the attention of Isaac Pessah, MS, PhD, a professor of molecular biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and a faculty member of the UC Davis MIND Institute, who investigates environmental factors that may play a role in the development of autism in children

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