Deciphering A Mystery: New Research Provides Clues To The Genetic, Neurological,

Science Daily Reports:

In new research, scientists have found that a specific gene contributes to autism and that autistic people have fewer receptors for the brain messenger acetylcholine, as well as more tightly packed columns of neurons in the cerebral cortex. Another study found that autistic children were less able to discriminate similar sounds than were other children.

The research is providing new clues to the genetic, neurological, and molecular basis of this still mysterious disease.

Autism is a devastating disorder that affects two to six of every 1000 children—mostly boys. Autism actually encompasses a wide array of symptoms—called autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—including various degrees of behavioral, developmental, and sensory deficits. Many people first became aware of autism with the 1988 movie Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman as a middle-aged autistic man. Hoffman portrayed an autistic savant with tremendous mental capabilities. In reality, only about 10 percent of autistic people display signs of genius—typically in mathematics, music, and art.

Although autism has long been identified as a genetic disease, the genes that contribute to autism have been difficult to track down. Unlike Huntington’s disease or Down syndrome, in which a single gene or an entire chromosome is inherited, many gene mutations are probably involved in autism. Now the laboratories of James Millonig, PhD, and Linda Brzustowicz, MD, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University have isolated a specific gene that contributes to ASD.

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