Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Do Genetics Play ANY Role in Causing Autism?

"Autism is linked to different genes in different people, 
and multiple genes could be involved in each affected person."
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, November 1, 2011

Do genetics play ANY role in causing autism?

The view that autism is caused purely by genetics held sway for many years especially with respect to funding autism research. The "it's gotta be genetic" mindset has seen research dollars dedicated overwhelmingly towards genetic based autism research.  Research into possible environmental causes or contributors to autism has been minuscule by comparison. What have those genetic autism research dollars produced? I am a humble, irrational, distraught parent of a son with severe autistic disorder but as I read commentaries by people who know much more than I do about these subjects what I see is doubt about the role of genetics in causing autism.

Genomic Studies Are Adding to Evidence of Autism’s Highly Complex Nature, an article by Patricia F. Dimon, Ph.D.,  published November 1, 2011 on the Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology web site makes the argument that current research, like that arising from the AGRE (autism genetic resource exchange), is providing some idea of where some common underlying genetic factors involved with autism might be found but in making that argument also makes statements suggesting a limited role for genetics in causing autism disorders:

"From a biological perspective, autism presents a “profoundly complicated” array of disorders with significant genetic components and genomic alterations thought to “organize around a central theme of neural network infirmities and neuroimmunodysregulations,” according to Daniel J. Guerra, writing in the March issue of Autism Research and Treatment.

Autism is linked to different genes in different people, and multiple genes could be involved in each affected person. These genetic factors, in turn, may interact with as yet unidentified environmental factors. It is now known that new mutations show up in children whose parents do not carry the mutation. Additionally, it turns out that in cases where underlying genetic mutations have been identified, the gene abnormalities don’t necessarily predict the disorder.

“Do we really know that every time you make that mutation or you delete one copy of that gene, you cause autism?” asked John Constantino, M.D., a pediatric psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, in an interview with Los Angeles Times. “We have no idea.”" (Underlining added - HLD)

How can we continue to play the "it's gotta be genetic" card of autism research, and ignore possible environmental causes or contributing factors, when genetic autism research has failed to provide any tangible results?  

After so many years of siphoning off autism research dollars has genetic research helped us understand how autism is caused or developed?

Do genetics really play any role in causing autism?

Apparently .... we have no idea.


Jim said...

I know my daughter's new pediatrician (who specializes in autism) was involved in a study where they had autistic children live in a "Clean Room" in an attempt to link environment to autism.

We met with him for the first time a month or so ago and they were putting together the results for publication at that point.

I'll be curious to see what they found but he sneak previewed that autism symptoms were not lessened by removal of environmental concerns from the participants.

Not that learning that in any way instructs us about what CAUSES autism, but maybe it shows us what doesn't 'cure' it.

trainspotter said...

I do believe that genetics play a significant role in many cases, but I think environmental contributors shouldn't be taken off the table either.

In my family there's a joke (not a funny one) that if you come from our genetic cesspool, you're either; autistic, obsessive compulsive, dyslexic or mood effective... all neuro-typicals came from the milkman! But when I look at my family I see plenty of overlap in the challenges represented despite the differences in diagnosis.

For the people in my family with mood affective disorders and OCD, there has always been stress "triggers" that have instigated onset of these disorders. It is also "stress triggers" that are the biggest contributor to relapse in symptoms.

It would be interesting to see if age of onset and severity of autism was affected by certain combinations of things (from prenatal issues to postnatal toxic/viral exposures etc.) at various stages in development and if onset could be avoided. Then again, maybe it's like mood affective disorders that just sit and wait for the right time to make themselves known?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know what sort of things they brought into the "Clean Room" too. Did the children have the same diet? If not, what foods did the doctors try excluding?