Autism – nature PLUS nurture?

‘A new study is offering a clue into the origins of the disorder by finding a single dysfunctional protein may be responsible for coordinating expression in all the genes that result in autism susceptibility.’

I took that quote from an article on autism research published by New Atlas. I strongly recommend reading the entire article but the gist is that:

  1. Researchers have found hundreds of genes implicated in the Autism Disorder spectrum, not just one ‘master’ gene.
  2. These genes are like switches that can be turned on or off.
  3. While these genes are ‘off’, the person may have a tendency towards autism, but they will not be autistic – i.e. there will be no symptoms of autism.
  4. There is a protein called CPEB4 which ‘…is vital in embryonic development, assisting with neuroplasticity and helping regulate the expression of certain genes during fetal brain development.’ In other words, this is a good protein.
  5. In mouse models, not enough of this protein leads to brain structures and behaviours that are characteristic of autism. In other words, the lack of this protein causes those autism-related genes to be switched on and the result is Autism-like behaviour.

Now, mouse models are just an approximation of the human condition, but they do lend support to the idea that autism is not just a genetic condition/disorder. Instead, it may well be a case of environment acting on an underlying pre-disposition. And if that is the case, then maybe one day we’ll be able to keep those Autism related genes switched off.

Have a great weekend,



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

8 responses to “Autism – nature PLUS nurture?

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Fascinating, Andrea. When I was studying for counseling, one of the interesting things that I learned was that we carry all kinds of genetic “aberrations” but that they need to be triggered in order to manifest. As you suggest, if we can learn how to keep these rogue genes under wraps, a lot of illnesses and diseases can be prevented. On the opposite side of the coin, can we “awaken” exceptional qualities? I love this stuff. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


    • acflory

      Yes! I didn’t think of the other side of the coin when I read that article, but you are so right. Mozart could well have been somewhere on the autism spectrum, and who knows how many other Mozarts there were/are?
      My fear with any of this though is the potential for disaster. A ‘successful’ human being, by biological standards, is not a Mozart. A successful human being has all those genes tuned for survival, not music or art or literature or even science.
      We might be able to create a sub-species of Homo Savants, but at what cost?

      Liked by 1 person

  • Sasha A. Palmer

    My daughter has worked with autistic children and young adults as a music therapist for a number of years. She loves the work, loves the participants — they never call them patients. She values research on autism, but she has concerns. She thinks that one day a major discovery might lead to “eradicating” autism, the way they’ve “eradicated” Down Syndrome in Iceland. Something to keep in mind.


    • acflory

      I just looked that up and apparently the mothers choose to abort fetuses with Down Syndrome. I’m pretty sure we’ve had that test, or something like it, available in Australia as well. I didn’t take it, despite being an older Mum, but that was simply because I was too scared of the answer. Luckily for me, the Offspring turned out just fine. I can understand the fear factor that might be at work in Iceland.
      As for an Autism ‘cure’ or whatever, I think it will be a long time coming. Those 200 odd genes probably have vital interactions or combinations with other genes that we know nothing about, so a lot more research would have to be done before any of them were turned off, or on.
      Ethically though, the question is whether we have the right to force individuals into a physical standard of what is ‘good’. That’s a question I’m not sure I can answer, even to my own satisfaction. I guess like Down Syndrome, every woman would have to find an answer for herself. Either way, a very hard decision to make. 😦


  • Candy Korman

    Fascinating! Once again, biology is more complicated than we “want” it to be. The search for simple causes for complex conditions leads us astray every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yup! That was my thought too. We want simple because we can control simple. Or so we think.
      I’m not a luddite but that is precisely why I worry about GMOs in our food. We still know so very little about how genetics really works, yet we ‘fix’ our food when it doesn’t even need to be fixed. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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