A new lead has emerged in the search for genetic influences on autism. A variant of a gene known as HOXA1, which supervises fetal-brain development, may predispose people to develop autism or several related disorders, according to a report in the December Teratology.
"I suspect that there are quite a few gene variants that confer a susceptibility to autism," says embryologist Patricia M. Rodier of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) School of Medicine and Dentistry, who directed the investigation. Even when such variants are present, however, protective genes or environmental factors probably often prevent the emergence of autism, Rodier adds.
Rodier's group studied 40 people with autism and 17 people with any of three other autismlike disorders. Problems in communication and social interaction characterize all these conditions. Autism also frequently includes mental retardation and repetitious body movements.