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Exploring the Genetic Diversity of Autism

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You may recall the look at Asperger's, "The Trouble With Genius," by our freelancer Rob Kuznia. The piece in part described the work on autism at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Chalk up another breakthrough in the ever-developing study of autism: Kenneth Kosik, neuroscience professor at UCSB, has just published results from a study suggesting the disorder is more genetically diverse than previously thought.

The co-director of UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute, Kosik spent two years conducting the study, which focused primarily on the role of microRNAs in the development of autism. He found that the short RNA sequences - unusual in that they have a distinct type of genetic signature - often bind to longer RNA strands, inhibiting their protein production and thus controlling which genes are expressed. Many of the genes involved are related to the development of the brain.

Kosik discovered that in autism, several kinds of microRNA aren't properly controlled - a defect which results in a control layer of the cell being clearly altered. Yet the study stresses that this alteration doesn't just show how autism patients are genetically different - more importantly, it suggests that because of the infinite possibilities inherent in unrestrained microRNA, autism covers a far broader genetic spectrum than we've ever imagined.