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Gene Plays Role in Risk of Autism
Date:1/10/2008

Three research teams found same gene raised chances of developing the disorder

THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A gene that appears to play a key role in the development of autism has been identified by three different teams of researchers.

UCLA scientists found that the gene -- contactin-associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP2) -- is most active in brain regions involved with language and thought and that the presence of the gene may explain speech delays in children with autism.

Their study appears in the Jan. 10 online edition of The American Journal of Human Genetics.

The same issue also features reports from research teams at Johns Hopkins University and Yale University that link the CNTNAP2 gene to autism. Meanwhile, a consortium of autism researchers from the Boston area reported in the Jan. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that abnormalities on chromosome 16 seemed to raise the risk of a certain kind of autism.

The UCLA scientists noted that the gene they discovered is tied closely to language development.

"This gene not only may predispose children to autism. It also may influence the development of brain structures involved in language, providing a tangible link between genes, the brain and behavior," principal investigator Dr. Daniel Geschwind, a professor of human genetics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

In the study, researchers analyzed DNA samples from almost 500 families that had at least one autistic child and found that CNTNAP2 showed up consistently in the samples.

The UCLA team also examined CNTNAP2 presence in early brain tissue and found that the gene was most active in developing brain structures involved in language and thought.

Researcher Brett Abrahams, a postdoctoral fellow, explained the significance of the finding by comparing the brain to a house.

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