A study of the genetic causes of autism confirmed that spontaneous or de novo mutations are present in a substantial number of families with only one child on the spectrum. These de novo mutations are not inherited from parents' DNA, arising instead in their egg or sperm or very early in embryonic development. Researchers compared the DNA of children with ASD to that of their unaffected sibling(s) and identified a diverse array of rare genetic abnormalities that may contribute to autism. Recent advances in technology have allowed researchers to identify genetic mutations on a finer scale than was previously possible. Some of thede novo mutations, known as copy number variations (CNVs) because they contain deleted or duplicated sections of DNA, were located in regions known to be associated with ASD, while others implicate new regions. Many of the mutations are thought to affect genes or gene networks involved in brain development. The study confirmed that these non-inherited CNVs are more common in children with ASD compared to their non-affected siblings; however, each unique variant is exceedingly rare, some found in only one family. In addition, researchers found evidence that inherited "ultrarare" genetic duplications may also contribute to autism. Based on the results of the study, the authors note that females have a greater resistance to autism from genetic causes, raising questions about the fate of female carriers. The study findings emphasize the diversity of rare genetic variations that contribute to ASD and suggest the possibility that a treatment for one form of autism may not have value for the majority of cases. The DNA samples analyzed in the study were part of the Simons Simplex Collection, a repository of over 1,000 families in the U.S. and Canada with only one child on the spectrum.
--IACC 2011 Summary of Advances in ASD Research