Brain plasticity is the ability for the brain to change throughout its life.
The brains of humans change drastically during childhood.
But one theory of autism is that the brain is disrupted during its most "critical period" of maturation.
Now a study by Tufts University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine has revealed we could be on the brink of treating disorders like autism.
Senior author Thomas Biederer wrote: "Our study identified a fundamental mechanism that controls brain plasticity, and perhaps most exciting, we can show that a process in the adult brain actively suppresses plasticity."
“This may prove to be a new path to tackle both childhood disorders and brain injury in adults”Prof Adema Ribic
Prof Biederer said there might be scope to “target the mechanism to re-open plasticity in the mature brain, which could be relevant for treating disorders like autism”.
Lead author Adema Ribic said he and his team had “found a way to increase plasticity in a very controlled way, both spatially and temporally.”
“Combined with the latest approaches in genetic manipulation, this may prove to be a new path to tackle both childhood disorders and brain injury in adults,” the professor added.
The team found that removal of the molecule which drives maturation increased plasticity in the brains of both young and adult mice.
The next move will be to find out if this plasticity mechanism will work in humans as well as mice.
They will also explore if it can be triggered repeatedly.
More than one in 100 people are believed to be on the the autism spectrum in the UK according to the National Autistic Society.
The research by Tufts University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine was published in the scientific journal Cell Reports on January 8, 2019.