Genetic influences on autism

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Researchers have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more heritable than recent studies have suggested with genetic influences on the disorder estimated to fall between 74-98 per cent.

Genetic risk factors for ASD were also found to overlap with the genes that influence less extreme autistic skills and behaviours seen in the general population. The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London and published in JAMA Psychiatry.

‘Our main finding was that the heritability of ASD was high. These results further demonstrate the importance of genetic effects on ASD, despite the dramatic increase in prevalence of the disorder over the last 20 years,’ said lead author Beata Tick from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London. They also confirm that genetic factors lead to a variety of autistic skills and behaviours across the general population.’

Data came from the population-based Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), and included all twins from the TEDS born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. In depth, home-based evaluations were carried out on 258 twins selected from the initial group of over 6,000 twin pairs, using state-of-the-art diagnostic interviews and play-based assessments, and 181 twins from the subgroup were diagnosed with ASD.

Results were consistent across several diagnostic tools and the robust findings could be used as a benchmark for future work in the field.

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