Seeking a connection between autism and the brain's memory center

| | February 28, 2018

The same processes that enable the brain to store new memories may also control many autism genes, a new study suggests.

Candidate genes for autism are more than three times as prevalent in the genetic regions that become active after mice learn a new task as would be expected by chance, the researchers found. This connection between learning, memory and autism could explain why many children with autism have intellectual disability.

“We are trying to understand the overlap between learning and autism spectrum disorders,” says lead researcher Lucia Peixoto, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Washington State University Spokane. The results appeared 16 January in Science Signaling.

Scientists can use this information to wade through the data from whole-genome sequences to find variants associated with autism.

One challenge for geneticists is figuring out which variants in a single DNA base — known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs — found outside genes are meaningful. The new work could simplify this analysis: Instead of looking at the entire genome, researchers should focus on variants in regions known to be important to brain function.

However, the association is statistically significant only in Caucasian people. What’s more, the regions with open conformation in the mouse brain may not match up to those in the human genome.

Read full, original post: Autism genes abound in DNA regions involved in learning

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