Autism Research Finds Disrupted Genetic Systems in Autism

Eyal Ben-David and Sagiv Shifman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Eyal Ben-David and Sagiv Shifman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Autism Research Finds Disrupted Genetic Systems in Autism: It is widely understood that different genes interact with environmental factors to influence autism, but new research finds a common ground as the various genes involved in autism appear to influence special processes in the brain.

Autism is influenced by many different genes, and different genes are involved in different individuals, making it hard to find the common genetic ground between patients.

Now, research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that the different genes involved in autism tend to be involved in specific processes in the brain. This can explain similarities in the behavioral symptoms of different people with autism, but also the large spectrum of behaviors observed in different individuals with autism.

The Hebrew University research, conducted by Dr. Sagiv Shifman and his doctoral student Eyal Ben-David of the Department of Genetics at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, has potential implications for early diagnosis as well as for treatment of autism in the future.

Dr. Shifman’s areas of interest are the genetics of schizophrenia and autism and genetics of variation in gene expression.  He will be speaking about this research “Shared neuronal pathways affected by common and rare variants in autism spectrum disorders” at ICare4Autism’s upcoming International Autism Conference in Jerusalem.

The mission of the Hebrew University project was to test the contribution of rare genetic mutations, as well as the genetic variations which are common in the population, and to see whether these different types of genetic risk factors are related. Instead of testing individual genes, the researchers chose to study gene collections, in an attempt to understand general pathways involved in autism.

Based on genetic data from thousands of families with autistic children, the researchers studied the contribution of different groups of genes to autism.

To their surprise, they found – when looking at mutations found in autism as well as thousands of common gene variants that are more frequently seen in individuals with autism – that these mutations and variations are located in specific functional groups.

When looking at families with one individual with autism (sporadic cases), and in families where there is more than one affected individual (multiplex cases), the same variants were seen acting in both cases. These groups of genes are highly active in the first year of life, and are involved in processes of learning, memory, and sensory perception.

The Hebrew University scientists believe that their work could pave the way for large-scale genetic scans in the future that could allow for early diagnosis of autism. Further, the results of their study provide a ray of hope that by concentrating on specific gene groups, it will one day be possible to design drugs which could alleviate symptom


Ben-David E, Shifman S (2012) Networks of Neuronal Genes Affected by Common and Rare Variants in Autism Spectrum Disorders. PLoS Genet 8(3):e1002556. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002556

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One Comment

  1. Dr. Marlene Ringler
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you can advise me. Looking for a mentor or case worker for my son, age 37, diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Need someone, preferably male and trained professionally to work with this population, who is available to meet weekly or twice weekly to oversee his living situation. He currently lives independently in an apt. in Jerusalem, works part time, and is college educated.
    Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.
    Thanks in advance, Marlene

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