Scientists Link 100 Genes To Autism

Jennifer Deutschmann

Scientists have linked up to 100 genes to the development of autism. A recent study, which was published in the medical journal Nature, suggests the disorder is likely caused by genetic, as opposed to environmental, factors.

Researchers have identified up to 100 genes that increase the chances of developing autism by 90 percent. The identified genes have three specific biological functions, which affect "communication between nerves... creation of genetic instructions... and DNA packaging within cells."

Dr. Alexander Kolevzon, who co-authored the study, explains that those three biological functions are linked to memory, learning, and behavioral traits. If the genes become mutated, the individual is likely to develop traits and behaviors associated with autism.

As reported by CBS News, the researchers examined 14,000 DNA samples that were provided by autistic children, their parents, and a control group. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers identified up to 100 genes that were linked to autism.

Dr. Kolevzon said the findings may help doctors predict, diagnose, and treat the disorder. As autism has been linked to certain genes, scientists can now concentrate their efforts on developing biological treatments. Kolevzon said biological treatments could "potentially reverse the deficits associated with that genetic mutation."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that 1 in 68 American children will be diagnosed with some form of autism. As reported by Autism Speaks, the disorder is specifically devastating as many children appear to develop "normally" until the age of 2 or 3.

Individuals with autism generally have a difficult time communicating their wants and needs. They also have trouble forming personal relationships, as social interactions can be a challenge.

Although behavioral intervention can improve communication skills and learning ability, researchers believe biological treatment could bring greater success.

The recent study suggests autism is caused by genetic mutations, which are generally spontaneous. As reported by NPR, it is unclear what causes the mutations. However, researchers do not believe they were "passed down from either parent."

Dr. Matthew State, who co-authored the study, said the mutations likely develop in the sperm or egg prior to conception. According to Dr. State, a majority of the mutations are found in the sperm of older men. If the cause of the mutations are identified, autism may be preventable.

State explains why the new data is significant.

"... five years ago, we had no idea. When you have no idea, you have no opportunity to think in a systematic or rational way to develop treatment... We can finally say something really concretely about a large number of genes that contribute to risk."

[Image via Online School For Girls]