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Monday, June 10, 2013

Causation and Genetics

Like everything else associated with autism, finding a cure is difficult. And complicated. And then difficult some more. 
In order to have even a hope of finding a cure, scientists first need to figure what causes it, and before that, to get a better handle on exactly what it is. 
This has proved to be a constant struggle for scientists because they are just beginning to understand what physically makes an autistic brain different from that of an average person. 
A few studies have shown promising results, but for the most part, scientists are still relying on behavioral analysis to determine whether or not a person has autism, said Matthew Kittelberger, a biology professor at Gettysburg College.
A growing scientific consensus has found that this impairment originates with gene mutations, known as de novo, in the early stages of prenatal development. 
"The dogma has always been that mutations are very rare," Kittelberger said. "We are starting to realize that's not true. You probably have 50 to 100 de novo mutations that neither of your parents have."
Of these de novo mutations, must of them have no effect on people, Kittelberger said, but some are associated with mental health. Genes involved with brain development are especially susceptible to these mutations, he added, which could explain why mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia exist.