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Connectivity may play role in autism

Genome-wide associations home in on proteins responsible for cell adhesion

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4:32pm, April 28, 2009

In autism, connections are important, new research suggests. Three genetic studies attempting to understand the disorder’s development point to molecules that form and maintain connections between cells.

“Of all the 20,000-plus genes [in the human genome], we’re down to a small family that keeps getting implicated,” says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, in Bethesda, Md.

Scientists previously thought it would be easy to identify common genes for common disorders. Given a large enough study size, statistical methods such as genome-wide associations would “pop out genes like olives out of a bottle,” says Steven Moldin, a human geneticist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. But until now, scientists have not been able to find a common genetic link among people with autism.

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