Scientists Discover Genetic Clues To Autism

Research by Welsh scientists has for the first time linked autism to genes associated with timing and biological clocks. The disability is recognised as having hereditary origins, but the study by the University of Wales, Bangor, identifies two new genes not previously thought to have been associated with the condition.

The genes known as per1 and npas2 control such things as our sleep cycle, memory and communicative timing. Autism specialist Dr Dawn Wimpory, of Bangor University, and colleague Brad Nicholas, of the North Wales Cancer Research Fund Institute, suggested that the so-called “clock genes” may be involved.

Dr Wimpory said her research confirmed the value of melatonin and musical interaction therapy as treatments for autism. Melatonin is a hormone that can be used to help establish a normal sleeping pattern, while musical interaction therapy assists with developing a sense of timing.

Autistic children are characterised by three core features – poor communication, social interaction and imaginative play skills. Dr Wimpory works on the hypothesis that a deficiency in social timing contributes greatly to the difficulties faced by people with autism. She said, “Autism is a disorder of complex inheritance where several interacting genes may be involved.

“This is the first autism study to identify interacting genes, it is also the first to identify genes that regulate behaviour recognised as affected in autism: timing and memory. It adds further evidence for the role of the biological clock in autism.”

The study analysed genetic markers in clock-related genes from 110 individuals with autism and their parents.