Health In Focus


  • Some autism-related genes could be associated with cancer
  • Anticancer drugs that block the molecular pathways of these genes could be possibly useful in the treatment of autism
  • Further studies could throw more light on the complex genetic basis of autism

Using a computational technique called network diffusion, scientists have found that some genes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be related to those involved with the development of cancer. The research was published in Frontiers in Genetics.

Though the importance of genes in the development of autism has been established, studies have not been able to boil down to a few genes that can be held responsible. Currently, more than 1000 genes have been suggested to play a role, some of which appear completely unrelated. At the same time, not all individuals who carry these genetic variations suffer from the condition. Many of these gene mutations affect the development of the brain, including that of the nerve cells, the nerve fibers, and the gaps between adjacent nerves called synapses.
Network of Autism-related Genes Decoded!

Scientists have suggested that the interaction between genes could reveal the connection between them in the development of ASD. Genes produce proteins, and the proteins participate in signaling pathways that have multiple effects. Thus several genes could influence the same pathway, the final effects could be changes in the brain that result in ASD.

Scientists used a computational technique called network diffusion that analyzed previous data that provided information on genes associated with the ASD and interactions between different proteins. They analyzed the data obtained from multiple ASD risk gene lists which included a total of around 1000 genes. There was very little overlap between the ASD -risk genes obtained from the multiple lists. They constructed complex pathway maps of their signaling pathways. Some of their observations were:
  • Many of the genes were associated with synaptic function and brain development, which are affected in patients with ASD
  • Many of the genes were associated with syndromes that affect children with ASD and cause symptoms of hearing and seeing problems, epilepsy, mental retardation and psychiatric conditions. These syndromes included Usher Syndrome, Fechtner Syndrome, Nance-Horan Syndrome, Sanfilippo Syndrome, Prader Willy Syndrome and Down syndrome
  • An interesting observation was that some of the genes of the network are normally associated with cancer. This has a possible implication in the treatment of ASD. Anticancer drugs that affect these networks could have a possible effect in ASD and can be explored further

About Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disorders that affect communication, social skill and repetitive behavior. They cannot be cured but the child's life can be improved with medications to control symptoms, and behavioral and communication therapy. Beside genetic factors, environmental factors like exposure of the mother to toxins or poisons may also predispose to the development of the condition.
References :
  1. Mosca E, Bersanelli M, Gnocchi M, Moscatelli M, Castellani G, Milanes L, Mezzelani A. Network-Diffusion Based Prioritization of Autism Risk Genes Identifies Significantly Connected Gene Modules. Front. Genet. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2017.00129

Source: Medindia

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