The new research was presented at the 34th Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.
The research is providing new clues to the genetic, neurological, and molecular basis of this still mysterious disease.
Autism is a devastating disorder that affects two to six of every 1000 children--mostly boys. Autism actually encompasses a wide array of symptoms--called autism spectrum disorder (ASD)--including various degrees of behavioral, developmental, and sensory deficits. Many people first became aware of autism with the 1988 movie Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman as a middle-aged autistic man. Hoffman portrayed an autistic savant with tremendous mental capabilities. In reality, only about 10 percent of autistic people display signs of genius--typically in mathematics, music, and art.
Although autism has long been identified as a genetic disease, the genes that contribute to autism have been difficult to track down. Unlike Huntington's disease or Down syndrome, in which a single gene or an entire chromosome is inherited, many gene mutations are probably involved in autism. Now the laboratories of James Millonig, PhD, and Linda Brzustowicz, MD, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University have isolated a specific gene that contributes to ASD.
In searching for the gene, the researchers focused on previous research showing that autistic people often have a smaller cerebellum, a separate structure at the back of the brain. "The cerebellum is thought to control many of the functions that are impaired in
Contact: Leah Ariniello
Society for Neuroscience