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Environmental factors as important as genes in understanding autism
Date:5/3/2014

Environmental factors are more important than previously thought in understanding the causes of autism, and equally as important as genes, according to the largest study to date to look at how autism runs in families.

The study also shows that children with a brother or sister with autism are 10 times more likely to develop autism; 3 times if they have a half-brother or sister; and 2 if they have a cousin with autism, providing much needed information for parents and clinicians for assessing individual risk.

The study, which looked at over 2 million people, was led by researchers at King's College London, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Mount Sinai in the US, and is published in JAMA today.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviours. The exact causes are unknown but evidence has shown it is likely to include a range of genetic and environmental risk factors.

Using Swedish national health registers, the researchers analysed anonymous data from all 2 million children born in Sweden in between 1982 and 2006, 14,516 of which had a diagnosis of ASD. The researchers analysed pairs of family members: identical and non-identical twins, siblings, maternal and paternal half-siblings and cousins.

The study involved two separate measures of autism risk heritability, which is the proportion of risk in the population that can be attributed to genetic factors; and Relative Recurrent Risk which measures individual risk for people who have a relative with autism.

Most previous studies have suggested that heritability of autism may be as high as 80-90%, but one study has hinted at a lower estimate. The new study is the largest and most comprehensive to date and estimates heritability of autism to be 50%, with the other 50% explained by non-heritable or environmental fa
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Contact: Seil Collins
seil.collins@kcl.ac.uk
44-207-848-5377
King's College London
Source:Eurekalert

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