Scientists have identified 33 genes associated with autism and related disorders, and they say several of the genes also appear to be altered in people with schizophrenia.
Of the 33 genes, 22 were identified as associated with autism for the first time, according to the study, which currently appears online and is scheduled for publication in the April 27 print issue of the journal Cell.
"By sequencing the genomes of a group of children with neurodevelopmental abnormalities, including autism, who were also known to have abnormal chromosomes, we identified the precise points where the DNA strands are disrupted and segments exchanged within or between chromosomes," senior study author James Gusella, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Human Genetic Research, said in a hospital news release.
"As a result, we were able to discover a series of genes that have a strong individual impact on these disorders."
"We also found that many of these genes play a role in diverse clinical situations – from severe intellectual disability to adult-onset schizophrenia – leading to the conclusion that these genes are very sensitive to even subtle perturbations," Gusella added.
The researchers screened the genomes of 38 people with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. A significant number of the genes linked with autism also appear to be associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.
"The theory that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder has long been hypothesised, but we are just now beginning to uncover specific portions of the genetic underpinnings that may support that theory," study author Michael Talkowski, also of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in the news release.
"We also found that different gene variations -- deletion, duplication or inactivation -- can result in very similar effects, while two similar changes at the same site might have very different neurodevelopmental manifestations," Talkowski said. "We suspected that the genetic causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental abnormalities are complex and likely to involve many genes, and our data support this."
(HealthDay, April 2012)
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