What is known about autism: genes, brain, and behavior.

Psychiatric & Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02129, USA.
American Journal of PharmacoGenomics 02/2005; 5(2):71-92.
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder of genetic origins, with a heritability of about 90%. Autistic disorder is classed within the broad domain of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) that also includes Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger syndrome, and PDD not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Prevalence estimates suggest a rate of 0.1-0.2% for autism and 0.6% for the range of PDD disorders. There is considerable phenotypic heterogeneity within this class of disorders as well as continued debate regarding their clinical boundaries. Autism is the prototypical PDD, and is characterized by impairments in three core domains: social interaction, language development, and patterns of behavior (restricted and stereotyped). Clinical pattern and severity of impairment vary along these dimensions, and the level of cognitive functioning of individuals with autism spans the entire range, from profound mental retardation to superior intellect. There is no single biological or clinical marker for autism, nor is it expected that a single gene is responsible for its expression; as many as 15+ genes may be involved. However, environmental influences are also important, as concordance in monozygotic twins is less than 100% and the phenotypic expression of the disorder varies widely, even within monozygotic twins. Multiple susceptibility factors are being explored using varied methodologies, including genome-wide linkage studies, and family- and case-control candidate gene association studies. This paper reviews what is currently known about the genetic and environmental risk factors, neuropathology, and psychopharmacology of autism. Discussion of genetic factors focuses on the findings from linkage and association studies, the results of which have implicated the involvement of nearly every chromosome in the human genome. However, the most consistently replicated linkage findings have been on chromosome 7q, 2q, and 15q. The positive associations from candidate gene studies are largely unreplicated, with the possible exceptions of the GABRB3 and serotonin transporter genes. No single region of the brain or pathophysiological mechanism has yet been identified as being associated with autism. Postmortem findings, animal models, and neuroimaging studies have focused on the cerebellum, frontal cortex, hippocampus, and especially the amygdala. The cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit may also be influential in autism. There is evidence that overall brain size is increased in some individuals with autism. Presently there are no drugs that produce major improvements in the core social or pragmatic language deficits in autism, although several have limited effects on associated behavioral features. The application of new techniques in autism research is being proposed, including the investigation of abnormal regulation of gene expression, proteomics, and the use of MRI and postmortem analysis of the brain.

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    ABSTRACT: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are much more common in males than in females. Studies using both linkage and candidate gene association approaches have identified genetic variants specific to families in which all affected cases were male, suggesting that sex may interact with or otherwise influence the expression of specific genes in association with ASD. In this study, we specifically evaluated the sex-specific genetic effects of ASD with a family-based genome-wide association study approach using the data from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange repository. We evaluated the male-specific genetic effects of ASD in 374 multiplex families of European ancestry in which all affected were male (male-only; MO) and identified a novel genome-wide significant association in the pseudoautosomal boundary on chromosome Xp22.33/Yp11.31 in the MO families of predominantly paternal origin (rs2535443, p = 3.8 × 10(-8) ). Five markers that reside within a 550 kb intergenic region on chromosome 13q33.3, between the MYO16 and IRS2 genes, also showed suggestive association with ASD in the MO families (p = 3.3 × 10(-5) to 5.3 × 10(-7) ). In contrast, none of these markers appeared to be associated with ASD in the families containing any affected females. Our results suggest that the pseudoautosomal boundary on Xp22.33/Yp11.31 may harbor male-specific genetic variants for ASD. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B Neuropsychiatric Genetics 10/2013; 162(7):742-50. DOI:10.1002/ajmg.b.32165 · 3.27 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are associated with atypical social, behavioral and physiological characteristics. Here we outline an emerging connection among the increased incidence of epilepsy, disrupted sleep and perseverative behaviors exhibited and sought by persons with autism. Specifically, we propose that persons with autism can benefit from increased levels of adenosine, a powerful inhibitory neuromodulator and the core molecule of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). We review the literature and present recent data obtained via a customized questionnaire administered to parents of children with a confirmed autism diagnosis. This customized questionnaire demonstrates that symptoms of autism are reduced subsequent to stimuli predicted to increase adenosine. In addition, we present evidence from the literature and pilot data from a retrospective study of children with epilepsy or epilepsy and autistic behavior who were treated with a ketogenic diet, a long established anticonvulsant therapy that recently has been shown to suppress seizures via the adenosine A1 receptor (A1R) subtype. Our discussion focuses on the actions of adenosine in the central nervous system, with multiple implications for ASD, and the potential for developing new evidence-based therapies. Taken together, published peer-reviewed research and recent preliminary research suggest that adenosine could help resolve multiple physiological and behavioral symptoms of ASD.
    Autism - A Neurodevelopmental Journey from Genes to Behaviour, 08/2011; , ISBN: 978-953-307-493-1
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    ABSTRACT: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are important neuropsychiatric disorders, currently estimated to affect approximately 1% of children, with considerable emotional and financial costs. Significant collaborative effort has been made over the last 15 years in an attempt to unravel the genetic mechanisms underlying these conditions. This has led to important discoveries, both of the roles of specific genes, as well as larger scale chromosomal copy number changes. Here, we summarize some of the latest genetic findings in the field of ASD and attempt to link them with the results of pathophysiological studies to provide an overall picture of at least one of the mechanisms by which ASD may develop.
    EMBO Molecular Medicine 08/2011; 3(8):438-50. DOI:10.1002/emmm.201100157 · 8.25 Impact Factor