MicroRNAs Could Provide Biomarkers for Autism

A new study out of the Department of Psychiatry at Hamamatsu University School of Medicine in Japan suggests, “that a set of serum miRNAs (microRNAs) might serve as a possible noninvasive biomarker for ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders.” While this could revolutionize the way autism is diagnosed, treated, or possibly cured, this study is just one of the early steps to understanding the role of genetics in autism.

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a nucleic acid present in all living cells that carries instructions from DNA to control the synthesis of proteins.  MicroRNAs refer to large families of genetic code fragments that regulate different physiological and developmental processes by suppressing the expression of certain genes or interfering with the protein production by genes.

The study, lead by Mahesh Mundalil Vasu, focused on the expression of miRNAs in 55 people diagnosed with an ASD compared to 55 non-autistic counterparts, with matched ages and genders. The researchers found 13 miRNAs that were expressed differently in autistic group and 600 genes and 18 biological pathways that may have been influenced by those 13 miRNAs, many of which were related to neurological pathways.

Research continues on traditional genetic issues such as changes to the genome that may be linked to autism, but this study indicates that these differently expressed miRNAs could be a biomarker for autism. Much larger studies need to be conducted before any conclusions are drawn, but this study provides a roadmap for that future research. 

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