Autism – Exploring the Causes and Potential Treatments

By Michael Edmonds 07/03/2012 9


In the March 5th edition of Chemical and Engineering News there is a fascinating article by Lauren K. Wolf looking at recent explorations into the causes and potential treatments of autism. Decades ago autism was blamed on mothers who failed to show enough affection to their children and more recently it has been blamed on vaccines, however, science is now exploring the connection between genes and autism.

According to Ms Wolf, hundreds of genes have already been tagged as potential contributors to the spectrum of autistic disorders, and scientists are now moving to identify exactly what each of these genes does, what proteins they encode for and how they affect brain function.

One of the key reasons that this research can be carried out is the advance that have come with the sequencing of the human genome. Supported by autism advocacy organisations such as Autism Speaks public databases such as the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange have been established and can be used by scientists to share information about the various aspects of autism, including behaviours, brain activities and genetic information.

One of the genes with a strong association with autism is the synaptic gene SHANK3, which codes for a structural protein vital for the effective functioning of neurotransmitter receptors. Genetic mutations in SHANK3 disrupt neuron activity interfering with normal synaptic function. Guoping Feng, a neuroscientist at MIT has demonstrated that mutations in this gene in mice causes the mice to be less socially interactive with other mice, and to engage in obsessive grooming activity.

As well as describing various other genes potentially linked to autism, the article also describes some early explorations of possible treatments. It is well worth a read for anyone interested in scientific efforts towards a better understanding of autism.


9 Responses to “Autism – Exploring the Causes and Potential Treatments”

  • Unfortunately the article has already attracted the attention of the “vaccines cause autism” brigade with the following comment being posted on the Chemistry and Engineering News website:

    “Please do not publish rubbish research that is being funded by NIH and to promote that Autism observed today has origins in genetic mutations. This is a well funded conspiracy against our children and to protect those who have caused this. It is also to blame the sickness on patient, and to make sure that it does not trace back to system that ignored the warning signals.

    AUTISM OBSERVED TODAY IS AN EPIDEMIC out break. According to epidemiology the out breaks can never have genetics as origin, if such genetic was surviving for generations. Those who try to assume this as genetic based disease state of the patient are barking at wrong tree. many of today’s diagnosed Autistic have no such family history. Out breaks are usually due to viruses or their synergy. Please reach out to the critiques of these jokers, who just want to fulfill their publishing quotas that involves undisputed garbage in and similar stuff out that fulfills some program manager’s needs.

    This will never solve and help the first generation of patients that are reaching their adulthood. We are just busy protecting insurance companies and making sure that expenses to fix these patients does not and can not hit the medicare or medicaid.

    Shame on all involved. More than half of these autistic today suffer due to the legislatively mandated inoculations – knowing full well that inoculating does not mean the protection. That protection disappears within few months or few years any way; but – it subjects a few to life sentence —- that too without having any liability to the legislative or medical community or the society at large.

    Yah, we live in democratic society —- where children do not vote, can not lobby and will never have a chance to justice or fairness! I hope our constitutional authors and experts can cherish the sacrifice that they have helped to mandate!”

  • oh dear oh dear. And anyway, what’s this about: This will never solve and help the first generation of patients that are reaching their adulthood.
    Vaccination has been around for more than a single generation!

  • I didn’t know you had an interest in autism Michael. I hope you don’t mind me pointing at ‘local’ coverage of autism as further reading for those that might be interested. I’ve written a few articles covering some of the whole-genome screens (each article tries to present one research paper for wider reading). These are from over an year ago now, but they might give some feel for the work that is being done.

    Autism genetics, how do you copy?

    Autism – looking for parent-of-origin effects

    Autistic children and blood mercury levels

  • Actually, this blog was in response to your blog which mentioned chemists not posting much chemistry. So I went looking for some chemistry to post about and found this interesting autism article in a chemistry publication – go figure.

  • Sorry, I didn’t draw any link with my earlier post – probably partly because being a biologist I tend to think of autism in terms of biology; of course there are (bio)chemical elements to the story too. That’ll teach me 🙂

  • Alison, true; but I believe the catch phrase “Too many, too soon” * covers the belief that a recent increase in in the number of vaccinations given is the reason for this “outbreak”

    *I feel dirty just typing that.

  • Two antivaxxer type posts so far on the articles website, so I added my own calling them out.