Mental wellbeing

New genetic links to autism discovered

New genetic links to autism discovered May lead to tests for early diagnosis

Scientists have discovered a range of genes that are linked to the development of autism and other mental conditions.

By analysing genetic differences between 1,000 people with autism and a control group of 1,300 non-sufferers, the researchers identified the differences in the DNA contained in the genes. The findings are contributing to a growing belief by researchers that autism is caused in part by many rare genetic variations found in less that one per cent of the population.

Although each variation on its own may only account for a very small number of cases of autism, taken together they are beginning to be implicated in a growing number of autism diagnoses.

Studies have shown that people with autism have more sub-microscopic errors or differences in the DNA of genes previously associated with autism development. But they also have these errors in genes linked to other mental disabilities - suggesting that a range of mental health conditions share at least some common causes.

The new genetic links are mainly associated with genes that play a part in the communication of information between brain cells (synapses).

The links between autism and other disabilities opens up new avenues for research and possible treatment of the condition. Study leader Joseph Buxbaum of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine said : "As we continue to uncover genetic mutations that can cause autism, we are gaining further insights that will ultimately lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatments."

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

This article was published on Thu 10 June 2010

Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki -

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