A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry identifies patterns of epigenetic changes associated with autism by examining genetically identical twins with varying autism traits. This model allows the researchers to examine how environment regulates gene activity and affects neurological development. Lead author of the study, Professor Jonathan Mill of King’s College London, comments on the significance of the study saying, “Research into the intersection between genetic and environmental influences is crucial because risky environmental conditions can sometimes be avoided or changed.” Existing research suggests that genes associated with brain development contribute to autism spectrum disorders. However, 30% of incidents where one identical twin has ASD, the other twin does not. This significant proportion of cases suggests epigenetic changes, which influence gene activity without altering DNA sequences. The researchers examined DNA methylation, an epigenetic mechanism that blocks gene activity, from over 27,000 sites in the genome. DNA methylation presence at certain sites showed significant correlation to certain symptoms of ASD and the number of DNA methylation sites across the genome was associated with the severity of manifested symptoms. Study author Dr. Chloe Wong asserts that these associations “give us insight into the biological mechanism mediating the interaction between gene and environment in autism spectrum disorders.” If DNA methylation is the mediator between environmental influence and genetic expression, then we need only determine the environmental influence in order to prevent and potentially reverse epigenetic changes. These findings offer considerable hope for the future of autism research.
London, King\’s College. “The Role Of Epigenetic Influences In Autism.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/259530.php>