New research is offering clues about why people with a genetic condition associated with autism and intellectual disability exhibit certain behaviors, a finding which may spur treatment advances.

In looking at mice with a genetic abnormality similar to fragile X syndrome, researchers say they suspect that individuals with the condition may have too much activity occurring in the brain.

Whether asleep or awake, scientists observing the mice found that networks of neurons in the brain were firing way more often than they should, a phenomenon that might explain certain traits common to those with the developmental disorder.

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“We tested the signaling between different neurons in fragile X mice and indeed found there was abnormally high firing of action potentials — the signals between neurons — and also abnormally high synchrony — that is, too many neurons fired together,” said Carlos Portera-Cailliau of the University of California, Los Angeles, a senior author of the study published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The finding could help explain why many people with fragile X struggle with sleep, seizures and learning disabilities, the researchers said. And, it could lead to new treatments.

“Because brain scientists know a lot about the factors that regulate neuronal excitability, including inhibitory neurons, they can now try to use a variety of strategies to dampen neuronal excitation,” Portera-Cailliau said. “Hopefully, this may be helpful to treat symptoms of (fragile X).”

Meanwhile, researchers said that the hyperexcitability of brain networks observed could also be related to problems with sensory overload that many with fragile X and autism experience, though further study is needed to test how the mice react to sensory stimuli.

Fragile X is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability and many with the condition have autism as well.