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article imageNew genetic link to autism

By Tim Sandle     Jan 4, 2015 in Science
Scientists have identified a molecular network that includes many genes previously linked to autism spectrum disorders. Narrowing this down, one specific molecular pathway appears responsible.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are notoriously complex and current research suggests that ASD is linked with hundreds of genes. However, as a way forward to disentangling this complexity, researchers at Stanford University have identified a molecular network that comprises many of these genes. This network could underlie the development of ASD.
Specifically, the research points to potentially important protein interactions as well as novel genes that may be linked to the disorders.
To expand further, lead researcher Michael Snyder said in a research note: “The study of autism disorders is extremely challenging due to the large number of clinical mutations that occur in hundreds of different human genes associated with autism. We therefore wanted to see to what extent shared molecular pathways are perturbed by the diverse set of mutations linked to autism.”
The protein array was pinpointed using BioGrid, a database of protein and genetic interactions. Using this, the researchers identified a module of 119 interacting proteins that include a very strong enrichment for autism genes. By sequencing the genomes of six ASD patients, the study demonstrated that this module was associated with the development of the disorders. In addition, a subsequent analysis of gene-expression data from the Allen Human Brain Atlas revealed roles for the specific brain cells — corpus callosum and oligodendrocyte cells — in ASD.
This supports the idea that autism might be due to poor connectivity between brain hemispheres. This infers that scientists should focus their attention on genes involved in different cell types and brain regions, rather than those that had initially raised the suspicions of autism researchers.
The findings have been published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology. The paper is titled “Integrated systems analysis reveals a molecular network underlying autism spectrum disorders.”
More about autism spectrum disorders, Autism, Genetics, Protein
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