Autism breakthrough: Key gene in brain `discovered`

Scientists claim to have discovered a key gene in the brain, which is linked to autism.

Last Updated: Nov 04, 2010, 17:56 PM IST

London: In what could lead to new tests and treatments for autism, scientists claim to have discovered a key gene in the brain, which is linked to the condition.
An international team, led by the University of California, has shown for the first time how the CNTNAP2 gene linked to autism rewires the brain`s connections, a finding which could lead to new tests and treatments.

In children with the gene, the brain`s frontal lobe, which plays a key role in learning, is poorly linked to the rest of the brain, the `Daily Mail` reported.

Lead scientist Ashley Scott-Van Zeeland said: "In children who carry the risk gene, the front of the brain seems to mainly talk to itself. It doesn`t communicate as much with other parts of the brain and lacks long-range connections to the back of the brain."

There were also fewer connections between the frontal lobe and the left side of the brain, which is key to speech and understanding language.

Team member Dr Daniel Geschwind, an expert in the genetics of autism, said: "This is a key piece of the puzzle we`ve been searching for. Now we can begin to unravel the mystery of how genes rearrange the brain`s circuitry not only in autism but in many related neurological disorders."

According to the scientists, learning more about how the CNTNAP2 gene is linked to autism could lead to new tests for the condition. It could also help with the design of drugs that strengthen the connections between brain regions.

"If we determine that the CNTNAP2 variant is a consistent predictor of language difficulties, we could begin to develop targeted therapies to help rebalance the brain and move it toward a path of more normal development," they said.

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the `Science Translational Medicine` journal.

PTI