A new chemical found to cause autism may help explain why some children and adults develop symptoms, scientists say.
The findings could help doctors diagnose children and help identify those with more severe symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The study was published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The research also raises new questions about the possibility that a specific genetic variant might cause autism, said lead researcher Elizabeth Stott, an associate professor of genetics at the University of Minnesota.
She and her colleagues are looking at the effects of a new gene in mice that may contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Previous studies have found that this gene is associated with autism, but the new study is the first to look at its impact on autism.
Stott said that it’s likely that other genetic variants associated with ASD also contribute to autism, though they are still being investigated.
“We really need to find out if there are genetic variants that are associated with specific symptoms of ASD,” Stott told Reuters Health by email.
The researchers found that mice with a particular genetic variant, called rs1717963, have abnormal levels of serotonin in their brains.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward system, mood and emotions, among other functions.
Serotonic acid, which is the main molecule of serotonin, is involved in regulating brain activity, and researchers believe that abnormal levels in serotonin are a risk factor for autism.
Serotonergic neurons in the hypothalamus are important for controlling mood, so a genetic mutation in the gene is thought to cause ASD.
“Our study found that a deletion of this serotonin gene is a risk for ASD in mice,” Stotts said.
“What we’re really trying to understand is why there are so many mutations in this gene that could potentially be related to ASD.”
Stott and her team first found the mutation in mice in 2007, and they first identified the gene in a mouse model of ASD in 2009.
Previous studies in humans had found a correlation between a child’s risk of developing autism and a specific gene called rs3784.
The new study examined mice with the same genetic mutation.
“The difference between the mice with and without this mutation is striking,” Stoll said.
The mice with rs3704 had higher levels of abnormal levels and were less likely to be affected by other genetic mutations.
The same mice with normal levels of the serotonin transporter gene also showed lower levels of ASD-related symptoms in a brain scan.
The team also found that the mice that had the mutated serotonin transporter had higher anxiety and aggression in their offspring.
These behaviors, in turn, could be associated with higher levels in the serotonin serotonin transporter.
The next step will be to find whether these effects are seen in human samples.
In humans, ASD is caused by a disorder of neural development and communication called ASD-NOS, which causes problems in social interaction, social interaction and social learning, among others.
The disorder can cause anxiety, depression, social and repetitive behaviors, sleep disturbances and impaired motor skills.
There is no cure for ASD.
People with ASD can also develop other developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders.
The National Institutes for Health and other research groups have funded the research.
Previous research in mice has shown that a gene called CYP1A2, which plays a role in the metabolism of serotonin and dopamine, has a significant role in ASD.
The scientists say that these findings raise the possibility of finding a drug to treat ASD in humans.
They plan to further investigate the role of this gene in ASD-affected mice.
“While there is no single drug for ASD, there are some promising drugs that may have the potential to improve symptoms in children and teens with ASD,” said Stott.
The discovery of the new genetic mutation could lead to improved diagnosis and early intervention in children, she added.
“It’s really important to understand what genes play a role and how to identify those that may be responsible for these symptoms and help patients get better,” Stowts said in a statement.
Autism affects about one in every 100,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. Researchers say there are several theories about the cause of autism, including environmental factors, genetic factors and environmental triggers.
In the meantime, there is growing interest in identifying possible genetic mutations that might contribute to ASD.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have found evidence that certain genetic variants of a gene known as the serotonin transporters gene can affect the production of serotonin.
The group is working on a new drug to target the serotonin receptors.