A new study of the fathers of children who have shown early signs of autism suggests epigenetic changes in their DNA may have influenced the developments of their child’s brain cells.
Epigenetics refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes ‘on’ or ‘off’. Epigenetic mechanisms, such as altered DNA methylation, have been suggested to play a role in autism. The study analysed the epigenetic markers on DNA in the sperm from 44 fathers of children who were part of the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI), ‘a national research project studying the risk factors for having another child with autism in families already affected by the disorder’. 193 sites within the DNA where epigenetic changes were significantly associated with children’s autism symptoms.