Researchers link dozens of genes to increased autism risk

In a new study, researchers at five institutions link 69 genes to autism, 16 of which they say have not previously been associated with autism risk.

By Tauren Dyson

Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers have linked 69 genes to increased risk for autism disorder, a new study says.

Of the 69 genes, 16 had not previously been linked to autism, and the researchers report several hundred others may increase risk depending on proximity to those 69 genes, according to research published Thursday in the journal Cell.


This newly uncovered data gives more insight on how parents may pass along autism to their children.

"When we look at parents of autistic children and compare them to individuals without autism, we find that those parents carry significantly more, rare and highly damaging gene variants," Elizabeth Ruzzo, a researcher at UCLA and study co-author, said in a news release. "Interestingly, these variants are frequently passed from the parents to all of the affected children but none of the unaffected children, which tells us that they are significantly increasing the risk of autism."

Autism can include a range of neurological dysfunctions that affect communication and social interaction.

Using a technique known as whole genome sequencing, the researchers mapped the DNA of 2,300 people in about 500 families. Among children in the study, 960 had autism and 217 did not. This allowed the researchers to measure the genetic distinctions between children in each group.


In addition to the new genes, the researchers uncovered multiple biological pathways they say were never identified in past autism studies and nearly 600 other genes that may increase autism risk based on interaction with genes already known to increase risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children in the United States has autism.

"We show a substantial difference between the types of mutations that occur in different types of families, such as those that have more than one affected child versus those having only one child with ASD," said Daniel Geschwind, who runs UCLA's Center for Autism Research and Treatment and study senior author.

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