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Gene variant may be linked to autism

May 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
UCLA researchers uncovered a gene that may increase the risk of autism, particularly in boys. Researchers looked at the DNA of 1,046 families with at least two sons affected by autism. They found that a variant of the gene CACNA1G, located on chromosome 17, was consistently associated with autism.

The variant helps move calcium between cells. "This is a strong finding," said Stanley Nelson, a human genetics professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, in a university news release. "No one has scrutinized the role that CACNA1G plays in autism."

Nelson said, "Our study may explain why boys are more susceptible to the disorder than girls."

Autism affects boys four times more often than girls.

The scientists have not determined how the variant increases autism risk. Researchers don't consider the gene to be a risk factor for autism on its own.

"This variant is a single piece of the puzzle," Nelson said. "We need a larger sample size to identify all of the genes involved in autism and to solve the whole puzzle of this disease."

The study appears online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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