Researchers at Northwestern University recently set out to explore why people with fragile X syndrome, a genetic defect that is the best-known cause of autism and inherited mental retardation, recoil from hugs and physical touch, even from their parents.

They found in fragile X syndrome there is delayed development of the sensory cortex, the part of the brain that responds to touch, according to a university press release. This delay may trigger a domino effect and cause further problems with the correct wiring of the brain.

In August MASSAGE Magazine reported on research that showed massage has positive effects on social and language skills for young people with autism. In April MASSAGE Magazine reported on a survey which showed U.S. physicians want more education in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help their autistic patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 150 children in the U.S. is affected by autism, and one half to three quarters of these children are being treated with CAM therapies.

Fragile X syndrome is caused by a gene mutation in the X chromosome that interferes in the production of a protein called fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP). That protein directs the formation of other proteins that build synapses in the brain. People with fragile X are missing FMRP. It’s as if the foreman is missing on the brain’s key construction site. Fragile X is so named because the X chromosome appears broken or kinked.

The new study will be published in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron.

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