Epigenetics: A New Way of Looking at Autism?

Part of ICare4Autism’s role is to present our blog readers with the latest updates on autism research. Well, the latest potential route to take while discovering the etiology of autism is epigenetics. The route “epi” means above or around, and combined with “genetics” suggests that certain environmental factors (drugs, diet, toxins) can be affecting the fetus to alter the activation of DNA and eventually lead to certain disorders.

This concept has been advocated by Jill Escher, mother of two children with autism. Escher’s mother, after having two miscarriages, was prescribed fertility and anti-miscarriage medication, and eventually steroids and hormones once Jill was conceived. Jill was born, and is neurologically typical, but both her son and her daughter are diagnosed on the spectrum. The hypothesis here is that the medicine her mother took had an effect on Escher’s eggs, which eventually led to her children’s autism.

While this concept might seem unlikely to many, there have been both animal and human studies supporting this theory that environmental factors can affect future generations. The actual DNA is not changed, as it is not a genetic mutation, but the way the DNA is activated has been altered by these environmental factors. Many researchers support the notion that studies should be conducted on autism and epigenetics. Columbia University’s Alan Brown is working with a birth registry in Finland in collaboration with Turku University’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, finding that mothers with high levels of C. reactive protein, which is caused by infectious diseases, yielded a 50% greater rate of autism in their children. Dr. Brown commented,

“I take a fairly agnostic approach on what triggers autism. I’m interested in understanding the causes, whether they are natural or imposed. If that exposure is toxic and there is strong evidence that it is related to autism, efforts need to be made to reduce or eliminate it from the population, whether it’s due to man-made causes or natural causes.” [i]

As previously stated, this notion may be hard for some to grasp, as many are strong on their beliefs on what causes autism. This idea is just that: an idea, and needs to be studied further.

[i] “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” Mysteries of the mind: Can autism be triggered in future generations? 08 Oct 2013. Web. < http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/health/can-autism-be-triggered-in-future-generations-706678/>

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