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National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Jennifer Loukissas
NIMH Press Office

NIMH Grant to Explore Genetics of Autism

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced this week a 3-year, $3 million grant to Johns Hopkins University to study the genetic factors underlying autism.

In an average year, 2 to 6 new cases of Autism, a neuropsychiatric disorder, arise per 1,000 children. While at least 80 percent of the disorder is due to hereditary factors, experts believe it develops from an interaction between environmental factors and multiple unknown genes. The Johns Hopkins research team, led by Aravinda Chakravarti, Ph.D., proposes to use new genetic analysis technologies to dissect the complex neuropsychiatric traits of autism.

“Although the role of hereditary factors in autism is not in doubt, their nature remains elusive and no single causal gene has yet been identified,” said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. “This initiative is part of a group of projects put forward by NIMH to begin unraveling the underlying genetics of autism.”

The study will apply novel statistical methods and molecular technologies to identify specific genetic markers, or polymorphisms — naturally-occurring genetic variations — that may be related to autism. To accomplish this, the researchers will use DNA and clinical data from the NIMH Human Genetics Initiative (www.nimhgenetics.org) and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (www.agre.org), two large repositories of research resources available to the scientific community. The investigators aim to identify specific gene variants that contribute to vulnerability to autism.

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