Skip to content

    Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

    Font Size

    Gene Mutation Tied to Autism

    Scientists Plan to Study the Mutation in Mice to Learn More About Autism Spectrum Disorders
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Sept. 6, 2007 -- Scientists today announced that they've found a new way to study a gene mutation linked to autism.

    The researchers report that they have genetically engineered mice with a genetic mutation seen in some people with autism spectrum disorders.

    The mutation involves a portion of a gene that makes a protein called neuroligin-3, which helps nerve cells communicate with each other.

    The researchers found that mice with the neuroligin-3 gene mutation were less social than mice without that mutation. The mutated mice were also speedier at navigating a watery maze.

    Obviously, mice are very different from people. But the mutated mice "may be a useful model for studying autism-related behaviors," write Thomas Sudhof, MD, and colleagues in today's edition of Science Express.

    Sudhof, a molecular genetics professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, notes that the mice didn't have structural problems in the brain.

    "What sets this mouse model apart is that the mouse shows highly selective social deficits and memory enhancement, but as far as we can tell, no other pathologies. This makes it a potentially useful model for a subset of people with autism spectrum disorders with just such characteristics," Sudhof states in a news release.

    Sudhof's team isn't arguing that the mutation they studied is solely responsible for autism.

    In fact, other autism gene researchers have suggested that autism may be influenced by 100 or more different genes.

    Although researchers haven't pinned down all of the genetic or environmental influences on autism, they may have a new way to study autism in lab mice, Sudholf's study shows.

    Today on WebMD

    girl at window
    Symptoms within the first 2 years of a child’s life.
    boy playing a violin
    Where do they fall on the spectrum?
    Mother and daughter indoors playing
    Play therapy may undo the disorder in at-risk babies.
    preschool age girl sitting at desk
    What causes this rare condition?
    High Functioning Autism And Asperge Syndrome
    Gluten Free Diet Slideshow
    Mother and daughter indoors playing
    man on bicycle
    girl at window
    Mother hugging teenage son
    Understanding Rett Syndrome
    Home Care Tips

    WebMD Special Sections