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Genome scan for familial autism finds two new genetic links

The first results from a scan of the world's largest collection of DNA samples from families affected by autism point to two new genetic links that may predispose people to the brain disorder. Nature Genetics reports the study's findings in its Feb. 18 online edition.

The five-year study was led by the Autism Genome Project, an international consortium involving scientists from 50 institutions in 19 countries. Founded in 2002 with funding from the nonprofit Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health, the group shared DNA samples, data and expertise in a coordinated effort to identify autism-susceptibility genes.

"This degree of collaboration is an unprecedented effort in autism research and demonstrates that a genetic approach is a powerful way to deepen understanding of the disease," said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, director of the Neurogenetics Program at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, one of the study's 13 research centers.

"This large-scale study reveals that autism is an extremely diverse condition," Geschwind noted. "Our findings suggest that autism has numerous genetic origins, rather than a single or few major causes."

The consortium used gene-chip technology to search for genetic commonality in autistic individuals from nearly 1,200 families. The scientists also scanned DNA from these families for variations in gene copy numbers -- tiny genomic insertions and deletions that scientists believe might be involved with autism.

"The large number of families in this study permitted us to organize autistic children with similar features of this disorder into smaller groups, where gene linkages may be more easily detected," observed Rita Cantor, professor of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Results of the two-pronged approach implicated a previously unidentified region of chromosome 11; and neurexin 1, a member of a
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Contact: Elaine Schmidt
eschmidt@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2272
University of California - Los Angeles
18-Feb-2007


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