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Autism Shares Risk Genes with Major Psychiatric Disorders

Autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder appear to share genetic risk factors
March 01, 2013

A “Top Ten Advances in Autism Research 2013” Selection
See all the year’s “Top Ten” here.

Parents and autism specialists have long reported that many children and adults with autism also struggle with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression or both. Now researchers have found shared genetic risk factors between autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder. The findings come out of the largest-ever genetic study of neurodevelopmental disorders and psychiatric illnesses. It appears online in the journal Lancet.

The researchers looked at genetic information on more than 60,000 people of mostly European ancestry. In doing so, they found that changes, or mutations, in four distinct genetic areas were significantly more common in people with any one of these five disorders of brain function. Two of the alterations were in genes that appear to be involved in balancing calcium levels in brain cells. (Calcium plays a role in communication between cells.)

“This is a noteworthy study long in the making,” says Andy Shih, Ph.D., Autism Speaks senior vice president of scientific affairs. “It confirms many of the ideas that have been advanced in recent years and points to opportunities to development novel treatments based on shared biological pathways." The study used some genetic samples from Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and Autism Genome Project.