Study Identifies 69 Genes that Increase Risk of Autism

A study that was led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) identified 69 genes that increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder. The study was published in the journal Cell, and was based on a study of families with at least two children who have autism.

The Autism Society states that autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability. Signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. 

The researchers for this study were from UCLA, Stanford University, and three other institutions. They used a technique called whole genome sequencing to map the DNA of 2,300 people from nearly 500 families. They found 69 genes that increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

A total of 16 of those genes were not previously suspected to be associated with a risk for autism. They way those genes interact with one another heightens the risk of autism spectrum disorder. Those genes are said to be “talking to each other”.

Researchers also identified several hundred genes they suspect may increase the risk of autism based on their proximity to genes that were previously identified to carry an increased risk. The study further revealed several new biological pathways that had not previously been identified in studies of autism.

Of the children in the study, 960 have autism and 217 children do not. This enabled the researchers to analyze the genetic differences between children with and without autism across different families.

The findings of the study highlight the importance of learning how genetic variants or mutations, the differences that make each person’s genome unique, are passed from parents to children with autism.

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