The Week In Review: Latest Research into Autism

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

Study discovers novel gene regulating Autism

Molecular Autism published a new study on 1st July that was led by Valerie Hu, Prof. Biochemistry & molecular medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Valerie has and her team have discovered that a gene, discovered by her group in 2010, regulates many other autism related genes.

This master regulator gene, called RORA, is a nuclear hormone receptor and is capable of stimulating or suppressing other genes in a genome. RORA encodes a particular protein is regulatory for over 2500 other genes of which many are involved in neural development and functioning. 426 of these genes are already present in the AutismKB, a documented database of genes that are candidates for autism.

Hu explained that RORA works like a game of dominoes where a crucial domino can lead to massive damage; if it topples over leads to genetic expression of autism. A study done by the same team in 2011 had indicated that RORA is amenable to influence by sex hormones-estrogen and androgen, suggesting possible contribution to male predilection in autism.

Healthy fat consumption during pregnancy may lower autism risk in baby

In certain cultures, like Indian, the pregnant mother is made to consume a lot of solid fats like home-made ghee, which is thought to be good for the baby. Now, western research might be suggesting the same thing in a new format. A study of pregnant women consuming high amounts of an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid found that they were 34% less liable to producing an autistic child compared to other women who had lower levels of linoleic acid.

Additionally, women consuming very less omega-3 fatty acids were 53% more liable to have children with autism when compared to women consuming average amounts of the nutrient. This study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on July 1st and was led by a team of researchers from the prestigious Harvard School of Public Health.

It is a known medical fact that fatty acids are necessary for myelination, a process that is part of neural development. Absence of myelin can lead to disorders like multiple sclerosis. Since neural development is still taking place when the child is born, it is necessary that the mother supply adequate amounts throughout the pregnancy and thereafter in the first few months of infancy. A daily intake of about 200 mg of omega 3-fatty acid DHA. Omega 6 fatty acids can also be obtained from nuts and seeds.

Study reveals higher risk of intellectual disability but not autism, post-IVF therapy.

A new Swedish study published this week in the Journal of American Medical Association has found that ICSI, a type of IVF, had a 51% greater chance of producing children with intellectual impairment compared to a normal pregnancy. The children were likely to have an IQ below the normal 70 mark. Additional risk for autism wasn’t found in the study. Also, the risk was found to be higher in case of multiple babies like twins and triplets.

ICSI, intra cytoplasmic sperm injection, is a process where the sperm is extracted and injected into the egg, all surgically, before being transferred to the womb. The technique and substances used for the process might account for the higher mental disability rates.