Jennifer Behbodikhah, D.O., a 2020 graduate of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine, was recently awarded an Eastern Section Scholars Award from the American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR) for her study, “Cholesterol Deficiency as a Mechanism for Autism: A Valproic Acid Model.”
In the study, Behbodikhah’s research team explores whether valproic acid (VPA), found in anti-epileptic drugs, may cause cholesterol deficiency, leading to autism-like neural and behavioral deficits. As the paper notes, cholesterol is essential in allowing the body to produce the necessary neuroactive steroids, myelin sheath, and normal brain development. Early postnatal or in-utero exposure to VPA, a branched short-chain fatty acid, is believed to cause autism-like neural and behavioral deficits in humans and rodents.
Behbodikhah and her fellow researchers suggest that VPA impairs brain cholesterol levels, and recommends further investigation on the exact biological mechanisms leading to autism spectrum disorders, as well as potential preventative therapies. Her research was also featured at the AFMR’s Eastern Regional meeting in April.