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Surprising Science

Genetic Clues to Autism’s Origin

Remarkable genetic differences between a brain of an autistic person and a person without autism found by U.C.L.A. researchers have changed the way doctors and researchers think about autism. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Published this week in Nature, a new study led by researchers from King’s College London and Toronto University examines gene expression in healthy and autistic brains. “Gene expression is the way D.N.A. sequence is copied into R.N.A., which leads to the synthesis of proteins. Each protein has a task it performs in the cell. Researchers focused on the gene-expression levels. The team compared tissue samples from deceased individuals: 17 healthy patients and 19 autism patients. The scientists discovered similar gene-expression patterns in the autistic brains.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Dr. Daniel Geschwind, who led the study, said: “If you randomly pick 20 people with autism, the cause of each person’s disease will be unique. Yet when we examined how genes and proteins interact in autistic people’s brains, we saw well-defined shared patterns. This common thread could hold the key to pinpointing the disorder’s origins.” And because different brain regions expressed autism similarly across patients with the disease, there is hope that more effective treatments will be developed to address these more uniform symptoms. 


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