Tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day, a time to focus on what causes the social deficit disease that circumvents normal interactions and development in children.
New research on schizophrenia suggests it could be a cousin to autism.
People suffering from schizophrenia, characterized by delusions, hallucinations and socially inappropriate acting out, have mutations to the genes that control brain development, yielding similar results to research on autism.
The variations are unique to each individual, which runs counter to conventional thinking to this point that these gene variations run in families and can be pinpointed to an “autism” gene or “schizophrenia” gene.
The newest scanning an individual’s entire genome - “Whole-genome scanning” - allows a look at a person’s DNA, which is then compared to family members DNA and others without the disease.
15 percent of people with schizophrenia had rare mutations to the DNA in the form of deletions or duplications. Compare that with five percent of the population without schizophrenia.
With children – 20 percent have the mutations to genes that are important for brain development. The only thing that tends to run in families is early-onset schizophrenia in children where a “personalized” variation of the disease seems to come from a genetic mutation from a parent.
Judith Rapoport, chief of the child psychology branch at the National Institute of Mental Health studies how children’s brain develops in schizophrenia. She says early-onset cases have much larger than normal brains. Children with autism have unusual brain growth before the age of three. And in both cases, there are two places where the variations in genes tend to cluster.
"We're very excited about the link to autism," Rapoport says. "You have to see these as risk factors, very intriguing ones" she tells U.S. News & World Report.
She and her group are going through the DNA scans looking for more correlations. Ultimately if susceptible people can be identified they might be able to be protected from any environmental triggers that lead to disease.
The new gene-scanning technology is allowing researchers to uncover the underlying biology of schizophrenia by pinpointing glitches in individual genes that control brain development.
The analysis is published in the journal Science. #