New research in DNA and Autism

Autism spectrum disorder has inspired much controversy for many years about its possible causes and reasons for its apparent increase in the past couple of decades.

Right now, these neurological disorders affect roughly one in 165 children and cause varying levels of difficulty in communication and social interaction. Unusual patterns of behaviour, sensory perception, activities or interests can also exist as part of autism spectrum disorder.

Although uncertainty still exists surrounding all the possible causes of autism, a new study published in June in Nature has uncovered more about the genetic links to these conditions and marks a shift in thinking about autism.

In the largest ever genetic study of autism, researchers at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children recently scanned the DNA of almost 1,000 autistic children from Canada, the US and Europe and compared results against the genetic material of non-autistic children.

Children with autism spectrum disorder had almost 20 more gene deletions and duplicates than non-autistic peers and the study also uncovered dozens of risk genes for autism.

Although many genes were identified as being linked with autism, the study results showed no single gene is responsible, there are many genes and regions on the chromosome, which differ from person to person.

In fact, researchers suspect individuals with autism may each have their own genetic form of the disease.

Other interesting findings in this study showed many genes involved with autism are involved in the production of proteins that affect the development of brain neurons. Links were also found between genes involved in autism and in some other mental disorders and this could prove useful in the development of specialized treatments.

Much more still needs to be learned before the genetic component of these complicated disorders is fully understood. This group of researchers has been awarded another $8.9 million to broaden their study and look at an additional 5,000 Canadian children in the next three years.

As our understanding increases, it will become easier to diagnose and help individuals living with autism spectrum disorders. Better understanding will also likely dispel some uncertainty for parents and families of those with these conditions.

It will be interesting to see what further results come out of the expanded study in a couple of years.


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