"It looks like this particular genetic variation affects cellular processes in the brain during development and in the gut for your whole life," said Keith Young, vice chair for research for the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and neuroimaging and genetics core leader at VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, part of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.
"What we predict is going to happen is that other genes that provide proteins for this pathway might be affected in those families, so they're not going to show up with a gut problem, but they can still get autism," continued Young, who was recently named chair of the Tissue Advisory Board for Autism Speaks, a group that aims to increase awareness about autism and to fund research into the disorder. "The long-term importance of this is it's providing information about this cellular pathway where we can start looking to find out what it has to do with development. . . This gene is found more in social parts of the brain."
This line of research may turn up targets for new drugs.
Although the finding is not likely to change the lives of individuals with autism in the near future, Campbell said, "It's important for the public to know that GI problems are present in autism. And in this particular set of individuals who have problems with communication, it's not always that obvious that they have GI problems. Often they can't say, 'My tummy hurts.' They have to find other ways to express that, and it's not always productive."
Visit Autism Speaks for more about this condition.
SOURCES: Daniel B. Campbell, Ph.D., research assistant professor, pharmacology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville; Keith Young, Ph.D.
All rights reserved