Is Autism All Stemming from One Gene?

A recent study led by psychologists at the University of Georgia has detected that people with autism may have less ability to form healthy relationships or recognize emotional states due to a process called methylation and its effect in the production of oxytocin.

The study’s lead author, Brian W. Haas, quoted that “Methylation restricts how much a gene is expressed. An increase in methylation corresponds to a decrease in the expression of a gene. When methylation increases on the OXT gene, this may correspond to a reduction in this gene’s activity.” This would mean that those with higher levels of methylation processing would have decreased levels of the oxytocin hormone which, Haas states “can have a profound impact on social behaviors.”

In the studies they found that participants with greater methylation levels and less oxytocin had more difficulty recognizing emotional facial expressions and had more anxiety about relationships with loved ones. They also found that those individuals had reduced neural activity in brain regions associated with social-cognitive processing during tasks where these areas should have been activated.

Haas believes that methylation can be altered during a persons lifetime and it’s possible that medication could help people who have difficulty with social cognition. He and his co-authors believe there is still a lot of work to be done to discover the exact role of oxytocin, but they hope that in the future they can better understand this hormone and genes related to it and find better treatments for social disorders.

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