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The first autism disease genes
Date:9/1/2008

of sub-microscopic chromosomal abnormalities (Autism Genome Project, 2007): Copy Number Variant analysis (CNV) highlighted the role of a gene encoding neurexin, which is a tightly linked protein to neuroligin, implicated in synapse formation for glutamate neurons. This revealed a hemizygous deletion of coding exon for neurexin gene for a pair of affected siblings. Accumulating evidence thus points out that neurexin/neuroligin/Shank3 (NLGN3/4, SHANK3, NRXN1) genes are related to autism risk, establishing a direct proof of the association of autism with synaptic abnormalities. Neurexin induces glutamate postsynaptic differentiation in contacting dendrites, while neuroligins induce presynaptic differentiation in glutamate axons. The neurexin-neuroligin link thus appears to be fundamental for glutamatergic synapse formation. Furthermore, aberrant glutamate function is often cited as a cause for autism.

By influencing the process of synapse formation for glutamate neurons, gene mutations predispose individuals to Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Autism and circadian rhythms

Another approach in research of the genetics of autism implies the melatonin pathway. Melatonin is produced in the dark by the pineal gland and is a key regulator of circadian and seasonal rhythms. A low melatonin level was reported in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but the underlying cause of this deficit was unknown. In several individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, deletions of the ASMT-gene were found. This gene, located on the pseudo-autosomal region 1 of the sex chromosomes, encodes the last enzyme of melatonin synthesis. Biochemical analyses performed on blood platelets and/or cultured cells revealed a highly significant decrease in AMST activity and melatonin level in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Melke et al., 2008).

Recent research indicates that a low melatonin level, caused by a primary deficit in gene activi
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Contact: Sonja Mak
s.mak@update.europe.at
43-140-557-340
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Source:Eurekalert

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