Genes, gender and autism

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: December 5th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Like detectives trying to solve a murder case, researchers have been searching almost ten years for the biological cause of autism. And they’re coming up with some surprising suspects.

University of Washington researchers have found that different genes may be responsible for causing autism in boys versus girls. They also discovered that other genes may play a role in the early onset form of autism and in the recently verified late-onset form.

Their study also provides new evidence that multiple genes contribute to this developmental disorder.

Their findings appeared recently in the online edition of the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Autism is characterized by severely impaired development of normal communication and social skills. It more commonly occurs in boys. In general, there is a failure to develop language and communication skills, an inability to form normal social relationships and a marked need to follow routines.

The Washington researchers say there may be four to six major genes and twenty to thirty others that might contribute to autism to a lesser degree. For their study, they scanned the D-N-A of more than two-hundred families with members affected by autism.

Scientists say if they can pinpoint and confirm a particular gene’s involvement, the field of autism therapy will explode. They are specifically looking for susceptibility genes that heighten the risk of an individual getting autism – just as there are genes that raise the chances of getting breast cancer.

Researchers can then develop biological strategies for manipulating the involved genes to prevent the disorder.