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Autism Speaks Announces Symposium on Environmental Epigenetics

Autism Speaks is pleased to announce a two-day meeting, “Environmental Epigenetics: New Frontiers in Autism Research,” March 22 and 23, at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute. Attendees will discuss research on the relationship between environmental exposures, gene expression and brain development. The event is co-sponsored by Autism Speaks, the MIND Institute and the Escher Fund for Autism.   

Human development is largely controlled by the complex chemical program contained in our cells’ chromosomes. This program comprises both genetic and epigenetic information. Broadly speaking, genes code for proteins, while epigenetic information turns genes on and off at the proper time and place. A growing body of research suggests that environmentally induced impairments to epigenetic programming may play a significant if little-understood role in some forms of autism. Environmental factors present across multiple generations may contribute to autism risk by affecting this programming.

The symposium will focus on issues of particular scientific interest, including whether environmental factors such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals can alter epigenetic information in human germ cells and impair the neurodevelopment of children resulting from such cells.

“Traditionally, scientists have studied genetics or the environment independently, rather than how they work together,” says Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., Autism Speaks senior director of environmental and clinical sciences. “This is a unique opportunity to bring together scientists and researchers to discuss this high priority topic."

Symposium attendees will hear talks by leading experts in the field. Together, they will generate new ideas, collaborations and research directions in the growing field of autism epigenetics.

Space is limited and registration will be opened to the public on a space-available basis, beginning February 1, 2013. However, most presentations will be videotaped and uploaded to the website for public viewing. Please visit the symposium website, www.autismepigenetics.org, for more information on the meeting and the field of autism epigenetics.

Editor’s note: For more perspective on autism and epigenetics, also see Dr. Halladay’s related post on Autism Speaks “Got Questions?” blog.