March 12, 2018

geneticsThe results suggest that a set of serum miRNAs [microRNAs] might serve as a possible noninvasive biomarker for ASD [autism spectrum disorder”. That was the conclusions reached by Mahesh Mundalil Vasu and colleagues* based at the Department of Psychiatry, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine in Japan.

MicroRNAs represent a large family of fragments of genetic code that regulate various developmental and physiological processes by for example, suppressing gene expression and interfering with the production of proteins made from genes. Still the topic of some investigation, miRNAs add a further layer of complexity to our genetic code with their interactions with various aspects linked to health and wellbeing.

Vasu and colleagues looked at the expression of miRNAs in 55 individuals diagnosed with an ASD compared against 55 age- and sex-matched asymptomatic controls. They reported that 13 miRNAs were “differentially expressed” in participants with autism compared with controls. Further analysis of results lead authors to report that some 600 genes and 18 biological pathways were potentially affected by those 13 miRNAs. Many of these effects were related to neurological processes. Authors also speculated on the use of miRNAs as biomarkers for ASD.

These results are preliminary, based on both a small group of children and young adults with ASD and not looking for other, more traditional genetic issues such as structural changes to the genome potentially linked to cases of autism. It is too early to suggest that different expression of miRNAs may be a biomarker for autism. These findings do however provide a roadmap for further investigation in this area covering larger participant numbers and crossing different populations. Examination of miRNA expression as a function of comorbidity such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia which can appear alongside autism is also indicated.


* Vasu MM. et al. Serum microRNA profiles in children with autism. Molecular Autism. 2014; 5: 40

Read more about this study at:


About the author 

Paul Whiteley Ph.D.

Researcher based in North East England. An academic background in psychology with a special interest in developmental psychology focused specifically on the autism spectrum and related conditions. Postgraduate degrees based on research examining the safety and efficacy of a gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet applied to autism and the potential importance of various comorbidity to the health and wellbeing of those on the autism spectrum, with a continuing research interest in these areas. Keen blogger and amateur science writer (but no formal qualifications in these areas). Science is based on probability.

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