But this is the first study to show differences in the patterns of gene expression between brain regions. It's those patterns of gene expression that enable the brain to function normally and to communicate properly with other regions of the brain, explained Robert Ring, vice president for translational research for Autism Speaks.
"This study allows us to look at the complexity of what's going on at a molecular level in the brain, a step up from the gene," Ring said. "Here we have the opportunity to really see that the development of normal brain physiology requires differences in the regional activity of gene networks. This report provides evidence that the expected pattern of these differences is absent in autism."
Researchers say the findings may help in the development of medications that target the pathways. "The fact that it's shared says there is some hope of beginning to unwind this and develop some treatments that would target those pathways," Geschwind said.
Compared to the healthy brains, autistic brains had less activity in the genes responsible for neuron function and communication, and a heightened level of gene expression in genes involved in immune function and inflammatory response.
Some of those genes have also previously been implicated in autism, researchers noted.
An estimated one in 110 U.S. children -- including one in 70 boys -- has an autism spectrum disorder, according to background information in the study. Autism affects behavior and impairs the ability to communicate and establish social relationships. Diagnoses have increased tenfold in the past decade.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on autism.
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