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New Theory on Autism and Genetics

Most Autism Cases Linked to Spontaneous Gene Mutations, Researchers Report
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 23, 2007 -- New research on the genetics of autism links most autism cases to spontaneous gene mutations.

The findings, published in this week's early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, don't pinpoint specific autism genes. Instead, the study presents a general theory about autism and genetics.

The researchers included Kenny Ye, PhD, of New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They studied genetic information from three large databases of families with at least two autistic children.

Ye's team created a mathematical formula to calculate the odds that a child's autism would be associated with spontaneous gene mutations or mutations that hid in their parents' DNA.

The researchers concluded that "the vast majority" of autism cases were associated with spontaneous gene mutations in the father's sperm or the mother's eggs.

Those mutations may become more likely as parents get older, the researchers note.

However, the scientists' calculations didn't include any environmental factors that may make autism more likely. So the study doesn't prove that any autism cases were solely caused by genetics.

Ye and colleagues also note that autism "is likely to involve many genes." That view is in line with a recent report showing that spontaneous gene mutations may be more common in people with autism.

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