The IMFAR wrap-up titled “Heterogeneity in autism: we aren’t going to take it anymore”

This week’s International Meeting for Autism Research was filled with important presentations on the multiple causes of autism, interventions, diagnosis, neurobiology, services, family and self-advocate perspectives, the list goes on and on.  There is a great recap on  An underlying theme ran through the presentations.  That is, that the previous “well, we don’t see differences because there is lots of heterogeneity in autism” explanation isn’t cutting it anymore.  We know people with autism are different, and parents, self-advocates and researchers are starting to deal with it by stratifying groups by their genetic backgrounds.  While not a complete solution to this challenge, research at IMFAR shows that identifying different subgroups based on genetics is helping to explain symptoms.

Webinar: Investigating gene x environment interactions in “single gene” autisms

On May 4th, Dr. Janine LaSalle from UC Davis and (the soon to be Dr.) Keith Dunaway presented on recent research investigating the role of environmental factors in individuals with Dup15 Syndrome.  Individuals with a mutation on chromosome 15 are often diagnosed with autism and previously it had been assumed that these individuals were destined to have a diagnosis due to their genetics.  Dr. LaSalle shows that many of the genes in a critical region of chromosome 15 are tied to turning genes on and off via a process called methylation.  Environmental chemicals or other exposures may also work on these genes to turn on or off gene expression epigenetically.  The first half of the webinar reviews crucial ideas in gene x environment interactions and epigenetics, the second half describes experiments using brain tissue of those with Dup15 Syndrome and autism, as well as cell lines, to understand the role of PCBs in gene expression.