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The gene family linked to brain evolution is implicated in severity of autism symptoms
Date:3/21/2014

The same gene family that may have helped the human brain become larger and more complex than in any other animal also is linked to the severity of autism, according to new research from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The gene family is made up of over 270 copies of a segment of DNA called DUF1220. DUF1220 codes for a protein domain a specific functionally important segment within a protein. The more copies of a specific DUF1220 subtype a person with autism has, the more severe the symptoms, according to a paper published in the PLoS Genetics.

This association of increasing copy number (dosage) of a gene-coding segment of DNA with increasing severity of autism is a first and suggests a focus for future research into the condition Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a common behaviorally defined condition whose symptoms can vary widely that is why the word "spectrum" is part of the name. One federal study showed that ASD affects one in 88 children.

"Previously, we linked increasing DUF1220 dosage with the evolutionary expansion of the human brain," says James Sikela, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Colorado School of Medicine. Sikela is the corresponding author of the study that was just published.

"One of the most well-established characteristics of autism is an abnormally rapid brain growth that occurs over the first few years of life. That feature fits very well with our previous work linking more copies of DUF1220 with increasing brain size. This suggests that more copies of DUF1220 may be helpful in certain situations but harmful in others."

The research team found that not only was DUF1220 linked to severity of autism overall, they found that as DUF1220 copy number increased, the severity of each of three main symptoms of the disorder -- social deficits, communicative impairments and repetitive behaviors became progress
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Contact: Dan Meyers
dan.meyers@ucdenver.edu
University of Colorado Denver
Source:Eurekalert

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