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Epigenetic Autism Research

Epigenetics studies the links between environmental factors and genetic triggers.  Explore recent research addressing autism and epigenetics.

Association between HSV-2 infection and serum anti-rat brain antibodies in patients with autism. [Article in Spanish]
Mora M, Quintero L, Cardenas R, Suárez-Roca H, Zavala M, Montiel N.
Invest Clin. 2009 Sep;50(3):315-26.

This study determines the co-existence of antibodies against nerve tissue and viruses with neurothophic competence (HSV-1/2, Epstein-Barr-EBV, cytomegalovirus, measles and rubella) in serum of 40 autistic children and 40 non-autistic children. The authors find that the proportion of children with positive levels for anti-HSV IgM antibodies (indicative of acute infection) is significantly greater in autistic children (65%) than in non-autistic children (17.5%), suggesting that autoimmunity against encephalic structures elicited by HSV infections could be involved in autism.

Association of family history of autoimmune diseases and autism spectrum disorders.
Atladóttir HO, Pedersen MG, Thorsen P, Mortensen PB, Deleuran B, Eaton WW, Parner ET.
Pediatrics. 2009 Aug;124(2):687-94. [Epub 2009 Jul 5.]

The authors investigate the association between family history of autoimmune diseases and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs)/infantile autism. They are the first to find a significant association between maternal history of celiac disease and ASDs. They also confirm the associations regarding family history of type 1 diabetes and infantile autism and maternal history of rheumatoid arthritis and ASDs that have each been observed in previous studies. They authors conclude that these associations between familial autoimmunity and ASDs/infantile autism are probably attributable to a combination of a common genetic background and a possible prenatal antibody exposure or alteration in fetal environment during pregnancy.

Autism spectrum disorders, maternal characteristics and obstetric complications among singletons born in Alberta, Canada.
Burstyn I, Sithole F, Zwaigenbaum L.
Chronic Dis Can. 2010 Sep;30(4):125-34.

The authors seek to determine whether certain maternal characteristics and obstetric complications are associated with increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children. The authors find that revalence and incidence of ASD in Alberta (their study population) are in line with those reported elsewhere and suggest recent increases in rate of diagnosis and/or incidence. They also find that relative risk modeling indicates that the risk of ASD is elevated among children of older mothers, as well as those who experience specific pregnancy and birth complications. The authors conclude that certain maternal characteristics and obstetric complications are associated with ASD in children.

Ockham's Razor and autism: the case for developmental neurotoxins contributing to a disease of neurodevelopment.
DeSoto MC.
Neurotoxicology. 2009 May;30(3):331-7. [Epub 2009 Mar 21.]

This report documents that within the state with the highest rate of autism spectrum disorders, the rate is higher for schools near EPA Superfund sites. The author concludes that the reasons for the rise in diagnoses likely involve genetically predisposed individuals being exposed to various environmental triggers at higher rates than in past generations.

Oxidative Stress Induces Mitochondrial Dysfunction in a Subset of Autism Lymphoblastoid Cell Lines in a Well-Matched Case Control Cohort
Frye R, Rose S, Slattery J, Wynne R, Tippett M, Pavliv O, Melnyk S, James J.
PLOS ONE. 2014 January;9(1). [Epub 2014 Jan 8.]

This article examines the “powerhouse” of the cell known as the mitochondria. Results indicate that the mitochondria is very sensitive to toxic molecules known as reactive oxygen species in immune cells derived from about one-third of children with autism. When the researchers challenged these sensitive cells with the toxic molecules, the mitochondria started to shut down prematurely. Since these types of toxic molecules can be produced by environmental toxins that have been linked to autism, the researchers hypothesize the mitochondria in a subset of patients with autism could be easily damaged.

Parental autoimmune diseases associated with autism spectrum disorders in offspring.
Keil A, Daniels JL, Forssen U, Hultman C, Cnattingius S, Söderberg KC, Feychting M, Sparen P.
Epidemiology. 2010 Nov;21(6):805-8.

The authors explore associations between parental autoimmune disorders and children's diagnosis of autism. They find that, for both parents, rheumatic fever is associated with autism spectrum disorders and that several maternal autoimmune diseases are also correlated with autism. These data support previously reported associations between parental autoimmune disorders and autism spectrum disorders. The authors conclude that parental autoimmune disorders may represent a critical pathway that warrants more detailed investigation.

The Role of Prenatal, Obstetric and Neonatal Factors in the Development of Autism.
Dodds L, Fell DB, Shea S, Armson BA, Allen AC, Bryson S.
J Autism Dev Disord. 2010 Oct 5. [Epub ahead of print.]

This study of 129,733 children finds that, among children with low genetic susceptibility, some maternal and obstetric factors may have an independent role in autism etiology-whereas among genetically susceptible children, these factors appear to play a lesser role.

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