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Story by Pat Bailey, video and photos by Joe Proudman

Just a few hours after its birth, the long-legged brown foal stands in its stall, appearing on first glance to be sound, sturdy and healthy. But something is very wrong with this newborn horse.

The foal seems detached, stumbles towards people and doesn’t seem to recognize its mother or have any interest in nursing. It even tries to climb into the corner feeder.

The bizarre symptoms are characteristic of a syndrome that has puzzled horse owners and veterinarians for a century. But recently, UC Davis researchers have discovered a surprising clue to the syndrome and intriguing similarities to childhood autism in humans.

Resembles children with autism

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

“There are thousands of potential causes for autism, but the one thing that all autistic children have in common is that they are detached,” said Isaac Pessah, a professor of molecular biosciencesat the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicineand 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.

Pessah, Madigan and other researchers in veterinary and human medicine recently formed a joint research group and secured funding to investigate whether abnormal levels of neurosteroids — a group of chemicals that modulate perception — may play a role in both disorders.

They hope their efforts will help prevent and treat the disorder in foals and advance the search for the causes of autism, which affects more than 3 million individuals in the United States.

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More and source: http://ucdavis.edu/ucdavis-today/2015/february/03-foals.html