Gene Mix May Contribute to Autism

Certain combinations may be behind disorder, researchers find

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Complex gene interactions may account for autism risk, according to the results of a study that found that a brain mechanism that normally halts or slows nerve impulses contributes to the disease.

The Duke University Medical Center team's findings point to GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptor genes, which code for the key components of the "off" switches in the brain's neurons.

"Identifying the genes that contribute to cause autism has been challenging. One explanation is that many genes are involved, none of which individually may have a major effect," researcher Margaret Pericak-Vance, director of the Duke Center for Human Genetics, said in a prepared statement.

She noted that at least 10 genes, and possibly as many as 100, may be involved in autism.

"In addition, autism may stem not from the effects of single genes, but rather from the interaction of particular genes, or sets of genes, when they come together in certain combinations," Pericak-Vance said.

She and her colleagues used an analysis of interactions among related genes to test for the role of gene combinations that may be involved in autism. The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

This research may help lead to methods for early diagnosis of autism and new treatments.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about autism.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, August 2005

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