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

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Environmental factors are split into 'shared environments' which are shared between family members (such as family socio-economic status), and 'non-shared environments' which are unique to the individual (such as birth complications or maternal infections or medication during the pre and perinatal period). In this study, factors which are unique to the individual, or 'non-shared environments' were the major source of environmental risk.

Professor Avi Reichenberg, author of the study from Mount Sinai Seaver Center for Autism Research, who led the study whilst at King's College London, says: "Heritability is a population measure, so whilst it does not tell us much about risk at an individual level, it does tell us where to look for causes. We were surprised by our findings as we did not expect the importance of environmental factors in autism to be so strong. Recent research efforts have tended to focus on genes, but it's now clear that we need much more research to focus on identifying what these environmental factors are. In the same way that there are multiple genetic factors to consider, there will likely be many different environmental factors contributing to the development of autism."

In the other part of the study, the researchers looked at individual risk. In the general population, autism affects approximately 1 in 100 children. The researchers found that children with a brother or sister with autism were 10.3 times more likely to develop autism; 3.3-2.9 times if they had a half-brother or sister with autism; and 2.0 times if they had a cousin with autism. There were no differences in relative risk between genders. This is the first study to provide such a comprehensive and far reaching analysis of individual risk extended as far as cousins.

Dr Sven Sandin, author of the study from King's College London and Karolinska, says: "Our study was prompted by a very basic question which parents often ask: 'if I have a ch
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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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