Environmental Factors, Familial Heritability Definitively Shown to be Risk Factors for Autism Spectrum Disorder - Tucson News Now

Environmental Factors, Familial Heritability Definitively Shown to be Risk Factors for Autism Spectrum Disorder

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SOURCE Mount Sinai Health System

Largest Known Population-Based, Longitudinal Study to Date Led by Researchers at Mount Sinai, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and King's College in London

NEW YORK, May 9, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the largest-known study on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to date, research findings showed the individual risk of ASD and autistic disorder increased with greater genetic relatedness in families – that is, persons with a sibling, half-sibling or cousin diagnosed with autism have an increased likelihood of developing ASD themselves.  Furthermore, researchers showed that "environmental" factors, such as those shared between family members (socio-economic status, etc.) and those unique to the individual (birth complications, maternal infections, etc.) were more of a determinant than previously believed.

The population-based, longitudinal study, titled "The Familial Risk of Autism," was authored by Avraham Reichenberg, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, along with a research team from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden and King's College in London.  It was first published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The findings from this extensive prospective study will significantly improve in how we counsel and treat families with children who suffer from ASD and autistic disorder," said Dr. Reichenberg.  "Currently, ASD affects nearly one percent of all children born in the United States. This study allows us to continue to study the genetic risk factors associated with ASD, as well as find what additional environmental factors may play a role."

ASD is defined as impairment in social interaction and communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; in the U.S., approximately one percent of the population is believed to have ASD.  For purposes of this study, ASD included the definition for Asperger syndrome.

The study cohort comprises more than two million Swedish children born in 1982 through 2006, and included more than 1.6 million unique families. The breadth of this study allowed researchers the opportunity to examine a large spectrum of relatedness, including monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins; full siblings; maternal and paternal half siblings; and cousins. Single-child families were excluded from this study. 

Researchers studied the relative recurrence risk, or RRR, for autism spectrum disorder and autistic disorder in these families to determine heritability and genetic relatedness. Recurrence risk expresses the risk of having another affected family member in an already-affected family – that is, the likelihood of a person in a family to be diagnosed with ASD if they have a sibling or cousin with ASD.  RRR measures this recurrence in relation to disease in families without any affected members.

In calculating RRR for the different genetic relations, researchers found the closer the genetic relatedness, the greater the risk a sibling or cousin would also be diagnosed. Monozygotic twins had the highest adjusted RRR for ASD (estimated to be 153 times more likely to develop ASD); followed by full siblings (10.3 times), dizygotic twins (8.2), maternal half-siblings (3.3), paternal half-siblings (2.9) and cousins (2.0).  Similar, if slightly higher, adjusted RRRs are found for autistic disorder: monozygotic twins (116.8), dizygotic twins (16.9), full siblings (14.6), maternal half-siblings (4.3), paternal half-siblings (2.9), and cousins (2.3).

Participants were followed for 20 years or until 2009, whichever came first.  (Regular medical and developmental examinations are required for Swedish children as infants and throughout preschool.)  At four years of age, a mandatory developmental assessment is conducted. From that assessment, children with suspected developmental disorders are referred for additional assessment. These assessments ensured completeness of data for the study.

This study held several advantages over previous studies, which may account for differences in research findings. The large sample size, established using data from multiple Swedish national registries, provided researchers with an unbiased population-based sample. Additionally, the length of follow-up time in this study increased the reliability of the finding results. This study was also one of the first to be able to accurately calculate RRR, by including twice as many cases of ASD and more detailed family data, including monozygotic and dizygotic twins and cousins, than previous studies.

This study was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Eunice Kennedy Shriver (NICHD/NICHS/NINDS-HD073978 and NIMH-MH097849), and by the Beatrice and Samuel A. Seaver Foundation.

About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven member hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services-from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.

The System includes approximately 6,600 primary and specialty care physicians, 12-minority-owned free-standing ambulatory surgery centers, over 45 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, as well as 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit http://www.mountsinai.org, or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Contact: Sid Dinsay
Mount Sinai Press Office
(212) 241-9200

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