Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Researchers have identified a molecule that is part of defects in 200 genes correlated with autism.
CPEB4, which regulates protein synthesis, is linked to about 200 genes and susceptibility to autism. The findings by researchers in Spain were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"Understanding the biological bases of autism may facilitate the design of future experimental treatments and diagnosis tools for this condition," the scientists concluded in their study.
Researchers in the past have been able to find correlations between defects in the expression and/or function of these genes and susceptibility to autism. But the reasons for these defects in people with autism were unknown.
Last April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the prevalence of autism in 1 in 59 children in tracking of 11 communities across the country.
The autism spectrum represents a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, but also unique strengths.
Most individuals with autism spectrum disorder cannot be distinguished by physical traits or severe neurological symptoms. Instead it had been identified in certain behaviors, including an obsessive focus on certain activities.
"Upon studying the changes in protein expression in a mouse model with altered CPEB4 activity, we were surprised to observe that the changes included most of the genes that predispose individuals to autism spectrum disorder," study coordinator Dr. Jose Lucas, researcher at the Spanish National Research Council, said in a press release.
The researchers noted the genes' vital link between the brain and neurons.
"This study is an example of how the expression of hundreds of genes must be perfectly coordinated to ensure the correct function of organs and the cells that make up these organs," said co-leader Raul Mendez, a researcher at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine. "In this case the brain and neurons."
Factors that alter brain development, including infections during pregnancy, also can contribute to the onset of autism, the researchers said.