Researchers find first common autism gene

Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:00pm EDT
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers have found the first common genetic link to autism and said on Tuesday it could potentially account for 15 percent of the disease's cases.

Three studies, two in the journal Nature and one in Molecular Psychiatry, suggest changes in brain connections could underlie some cases.

While the findings do not immediately offer hope for a treatment, they do help explain the underlying causes of the condition, which affects as many as one in 150 children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These findings establish that genetic factors play a strong role in autism spectrum disorder," National Institutes of Health acting director Dr. Raynard Kington said in a statement.

"Detailed analysis of the genes and how they affect brain development is likely to yield better strategies for diagnosing and treating children with autism."

Autism refers to a spectrum of diseases, from severe and profound inability to communicate and mental retardation, to relatively mild symptoms called Asperger's syndrome.

Doctors have been at a loss to explain it, although it has been clear autism can often run in families, suggesting a genetic cause.

"Previous studies have suggested that autism is a developmental disorder resulting from abnormal connections in the brain. These three studies suggest some of the genetic factors which might lead to abnormal connectivity," Dr. Thomas Insel, director of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement.   Continued...

 
<p>An autistic child reacts during a therapy session at the Stars and Rain School for autistic children in Beijing March 23, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>