Last week we proposed the possibility of epigenetics when exploring the causes for autism. Epigenetics suggests that environmental factors can be affecting the fetus, altering the activation of DNA. A new study published in September in Molecular Psychiatry supports the concept of epigenetics, but suggests that a combination of genetic and epigenetic factors is what really leads to autism.
The study, led by senior researcher Andrew Feinberg, director of the Center for Epigenetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, analyzed postmortem brains of 19 people diagnosed with autism, and 21 controls. The goal was to look for methyl groups, chemical tags on DNA responsible for switching genes without changing the sequence. The results of the study found three regions with unusual patterns of methylation in the autism groups’ brains. Even more impressive, at least to Janine LaSalle, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at theUniversityofCalifornia Davis, and not part of the study, the group was able to replicate the study with two independent tests,
“What I liked is the fact that it held up in the replication study. There’s a lot of interest about whether there are epigenetic marks that can be found in autism, but I think this is one of the larger genomic looks at autism in postmortem brains.”[i]
The findings of this study are substantial, and will lead to further studies investigating the notion of both genetic and epigenetic factors of autism.
[i] “SFARI” Gene screen reveals altered chemical tags in autism brains. 14 Oct 2013. Web. < http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2013/gene-screen-reveals-altered-chemical-tags-in-autism-brains>