Magazine article Science News

Gene Implicated in Development of Autism

Magazine article Science News

Gene Implicated in Development of Autism

Article excerpt

A new lead has emerged in the search for genetic influences on autism. A variant of a gene known as HOXA1, which supervises fetal-brain development, may predispose people to develop autism or several related disorders, according to a report in the December TERATOLOGY.

"I suspect that there are quite a few gene variants that confer a susceptibility to autism," says embryologist Patricia M. Rodier of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) School of Medicine and Dentistry, who directed the investigation. Even when such variants are present, however, protective genes or environmental factors probably often prevent the emergence of autism, Rodier adds.

Rodier's group studied 40 people with autism and 17 people with any of three other autismlike disorders. Problems in communication and social interaction characterize all these conditions. Autism also frequently includes mental retardation and repetitious body movements.

In a DNA analysis, 22 of the 57 participants--about 40 percent--exhibited the HOXA1 variant. HOXA1 helps regulate other genes that direct the formation of the brain stem, a structure that has attracted little attention from autism researchers. In 21 of those 22 cases, individuals carried one copy of the variant and one copy of a more common version. Only one person displayed two copies of the variant.

About 20 percent of more than 200 people in a group with no neurological or psychiatric diagnoses have a copy of the HOXA1 variant, Rodier's team found. …

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