Nav: Home

Newly revealed autism-related genes include genes involved in cancer

September 25, 2017

The identification of genes related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could help to better understand the disorder and develop new treatments. While scientists have found many genetic differences in different people with ASD, these often show little overlap and don't appear to be related. Using a new technique that accounts for how genes interact, Italian researchers have identified new networks of related genes that may be involved in ASD - including genes that are related to cancer.

Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, and includes conditions like autism and Asperger's syndrome. ASD symptoms vary significantly, but typically start within the first three years of life and include repetitive behaviors, and difficulty communicating and socializing.

Autism spectrum disorder has a significant genetic component, and scientists have found thousands of genetic differences between some people with ASD and those without. Researchers suspect that many of these genetic anomalies can predispose people to the disorder, or directly contribute to it.

However, ASD is complex, and researchers have only begun to unravel its genetic basis. One problem is that many studies have found completely different genetic anomalies in different people with ASD, which show little overlap and don't appear to be related.

This makes it difficult to find common hallmarks that could provide better clues to understanding and treating the disorder. While this genetic variability demonstrates that ASD is incredibly complex, a new technique could help to cast more light on the situation.

When a cell in your body expresses a gene, it produces a specific protein. These proteins interact to form complex signaling pathways that can have wide-reaching effects. Different genes could affect the same pathway, meaning that the different genetic anomalies found in people with ASD could potentially all be affecting similar pathways.

By accounting for how genes interact, rather than just looking at individual genes, scientists might potentially spot biological hallmarks of ASD they might otherwise miss. In a study recently published in Frontiers in Genetics, researchers in Italy used a new computational technique to do just that.

Searching public databases, the team investigated genes that previous studies have associated with ASD. They used another database listing interactions between different proteins, to narrow down the list of genes and account for interactions between them.

Using a computational technique called network diffusion, the team identified networks of genes that are interrelated through their connection to the ASD genes in the databases. They also investigated if the genes were involved in any known signaling pathways.

So, what do these genes do? Some of the ASD genes in the networks are involved in brain function and how neurons develop and transmit information. Others are involved in conditions that tend to occur alongside ASD, such as psychiatric disorders and epilepsy, and interestingly, some of the genes are also involved in cancer.

The team also identified genes that had not been previously linked to ASD, but are heavily involved in numerous protein interactions and signaling pathways. Using their data, the team constructed complex pathway maps that could provide clues about ASD and potential treatments.

For example, many of the genes in the new networks are related to cancer, suggesting that certain cancer treatments that target these genes might also be useful to treat ASD. The team's computational technique can also be used to learn about other conditions.

"The computational method we have proposed can be applied to other data-sets to predict new genes involved in other conditions," says Alessandra Mezzelani, a researcher involved in the study. "We hope that global gene databases will continue to grow, allowing scientist to share and reuse these types of data, and we will update our model as more ASD risk genes are discovered." says Ettore Mosca, who was also involved.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Autism Articles:

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism and the smell of fear
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense of smell may also play a central role in autism.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.
Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.
Pinpointing the origins of autism
The origins of autism remain mysterious. What areas of the brain are involved, and when do the first signs appear?
Genes, ozone, and autism
Exposure to ozone in the environment puts individuals with high levels of genetic variation at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected just by adding the two risk factors together, a new analysis shows.
New form of autism found
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect around one percent of the world's population and are characterized by a range of difficulties in social interaction and communication.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.