Genetic link to autism

Strong evidence that genes play a role in autism found

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Scientists have compelling evidence that genetics have a hand in autism. The Nature study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, has highlighted genetics changes that seem to impact on the likelihood of developing autism and related conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Asperger’s syndrome.

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The genetic changes are tiny, but influence genes that help build and maintain connections between our brain cells. The Nature study drew attention to one common genetic variant that if corrected could cut cases of autism by 15%.

Dr Raynard Kington, from the US National Institutes of Health, has said: “These finding establish that genetic factors play a strong role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).” He also said that detailed analysis of the genes and the impact they have on brain development could result in better ways to diagnose and treat autistic children.

Lead researcher Dr Hakon Hakonarson has said: “There are going to be many genes involved in causing autism. In most cases, it’s likely that each gene contributes a small amount of risk, and interacts with other genes and environmental factors to trigger the onset.”

Now 133 genes have been linked to ASD, and much work is required to understand how they interact with each other and the environment, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge, has said.

The National Autistic Society has said the exact causes of autism were unknown.

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