Quirks & Quarks

Genetics Homes in on Autism

Autism is a complex disorder with multiple causes, but clever genetic "triangulation" is leading to insights into its biology. ...

Autism is a complex disorder with multiple causes, but clever genetic "triangulation" is leading to insights into its biology. 
Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a range of communications and social engagement problems, and it seems also to have a large range of different causes.  More than twenty mutated genes can result in autism, and, in some forms of autism, no genetic cause has yet been identified.  This has suggested to researchers that autism might be a result of disturbances in brain development that can happen in many different ways, but identifying those disturbances has been difficult.  Dr. Carl Ernst, from the Departments of Psychiatry and Human Genetics at McGill University, has been studying two genes that, when mutated, can independently cause autism.  By finding out what they have in common in their operations in the cell, he hopes to home in on what might be the critical changes in the cell that occur to cause autism.

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