A new research suggests Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may have a common root cause along with other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
ASD, a category that includes autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, are characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication, or repetitive behaviors.
At first glance, schizophrenia and autism may look like completely different illnesses, but closer inspection reveals many common traits, including social and cognitive dysfunction and a decreased ability to lead normal lives and function in the real world, said Dr. Mark Weiser of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center.
Studying extensive databases in Israel and Sweden, the researchers discovered that the two illnesses had a genetic link, representing a heightened risk within families.
They found that people who have a schizophrenic sibling are 12 times more likely to have autism than those with no schizophrenia in the family. The presence of bipolar disorder in a sibling showed a similar pattern of association, but to a lesser degree.
A scientific leap forward, this study sheds new light on the genetics of these disorders. The results will help scientists better understand the genetics of mental illness, said Dr. Weiser, and may prove to be a fruitful direction for future research.
The researchers are now taking this research in a clinical direction. For now, though, the findings shouldn't influence the way that doctors treat patients with either illness, he added.
This work was done in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Carolina, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Kings College London, and the Israeli Defense Force Medical Corps.
The findings have been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.