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What We Read Today 05 March 2015

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Autism appears 'largely genetic' (Michelle Roberts, BBC News)  A study conducted by a King's College medical research team for the Medical Research Council have found that genetic make-up is responsible for 74-98% of all autism cases.  The range is defined by uncertainty due to the sample size in the experiment.  The experimental sample was all twins born in England and Wales during the three years starting 01 January 1994 and 31 December 1996.  Of a total 6423 pairs included in the sturdy, 516 were identical (monozygotic twins) and the remainder fraternal (dizygotic twins).  All twins in the study were raised together by their parents to maximize the coincidence of environmental factors for each pair.

The research found that 181 individual teenagers in the study were diagnosed with autism.  This is approximately one case for every 71 individuals, higher than the generally accepted rate of 1 in 88.  See Autism Fact Sheet (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH).  The research found that the incidence of autism in identical twins was "far higher".

The researchers say that the study suggests that a complex set of genes may be involved and that environmental influences cannot be ruled out entirely.  A quote from one of the researchers, Dr. Francesca Happe:

"Our findings suggest environmental factors are smaller, which is important because some parents are concerned whether things like high pollution might be causing autism.

"Some people think there might be a big environmental component because autism has become more common in recent years but that's happened too fast for genetics to be a probable cause.

"The main consensus now is that the rise in diagnosis has more to do with increased awareness of the condition."

The research paper:  Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a UK Population-Based Twin Sample ( Emma Colvert et al, JAMA Psychiatry).



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