Most experts agree that autism is genetically inherited since it tends to run in families. A study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, looked for the possible causes of autism not in the genes themselves, but in the “epigenetic tags” that dictate gene activity.
“We wondered if we could learn what happens before someone gets autism,” said study author Andrew Feinberg, the King Fahd Professor of Molecular Medicine and director of the Center for Epigenetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Researchers analyzed the sperm of 44 fathers of children with early signs of autism. They studied the sperm’s epigenetic tags in 450,000 different positions throughout the genome. Then, they compared these to the father’s child’s scores on an Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI). Results found 193 sites where the presence or absence of a tag was statistically related to the AOSI scores.
They also found that four out of 10 sites most strongly linked to the AOSI scores were located near genes of Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that shares similar behavioral symptoms with autism.
“If epigenetic changes are being passed from fathers to their children, we should be able to detect them in sperm,” said co-lead author Daniele Fallin, professor and chair of the Department of Mental Health in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
Sources: April 15, 2015. "Father's Sperm May Hold Clues to Autism Risk." webmd.com April 15, 2015. "Paternal sperm may hold clues to autism". sciencedaily.com April 15, 2015. "Father’s sperm may point to child’s autism risk, study finds". foxnews.com