Air pollution and genetics – risks for autism onset according to new research

CC BY-NC-ND by EnvironmentBlog

Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) has published a  new study relating increase in air pollution to a rise in autism diagnosis in those carrying already vulnerable genetics.

The study entitled “Autism spectrum disorder: Interaction of air pollution with the MET receptor tyrosine kinase gene,”  will appear in  the January 2014 edition of Epidemiology.

Lead author, Heather E. Volk, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of research in preventive medicine and pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and principal investigator at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles said:

“Our research shows that children with both the risk genotype and exposure to high air pollutant levels were at increased risk of  compared to those without the risk genotype and lower  exposure.”

There is no cure for autism, and scientists are constantly  researching into it’s causes and why it develops. New research in the field indicates that it is highly heritable, which suggests strongly that inherited genetics are a main pre-dominator for onset of autism.

Daniel B. Campbell, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the study’s senior author said:

“Although gene-environment interactions are widely believed to contribute to risk, this is the first demonstration of a specific interaction between a well-established  and an environmental factor that independently contribute to autism risk. The MET gene variant has been associated with autism in multiple studies, controls expression of MET protein in both the brain and the immune system, and predicts altered brain structure and function. It will be important to replicate this finding and to determine the mechanisms by which these genetic and environmental factors interact to increase the risk for autism.”

The study looked at 408 children between the ages of 2 and 5 from the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment Study, a population based study conducted in California. 252 of the children met the criteria for autism (hereditary indicators through blood testing.

Air pollution was measured on the place of residence of the sampled children and their mothers pre birth.

Campbell and Volk continue to study the interaction of air pollution exposure and the MET genotype in mothers during pregnancy. The current study suggests that air pollution exposure and the genetic variant interact to augment the risk of ASD.