Genetic & Environmental Factors In Autism

The causes of ASD are a hot topic in both scientific research and the media in recent years. As scientists are investigating just the top of the pile of possible causes, they share their findings, get peers to review their work, publish papers, and continue to research further.

Possible Causes

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been found to be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Environmental factors like zinc deficiency and immune system dysfunctions lead to glutamate synapse dysfunction. This dysfunction results in an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory signaling in the brain that we see manifest as ASD. The range of environmental risk factors for autism include prenatal viral infection, zinc deficiency, abnormal melatonin synthesis, maternal diabetes, prenatal & perinatal stress, toxins, parental age, and postnatal risk factors. These risk factors are interconnected with each other to create changes in the body that result in ASD. One thing made absolutely clear is that vaccines do not cause ASD as so far established in scientific research. As research further into these environmental factors continues, the hope is that we will gain insight into ways to prevent ASD.

Genetics also seems to play an important role in the acquisition of ASD. Many studies have been published and peer reviewed indicating autism-risk genes and their functions. Below is a figure summarizing a few with their role in the body.

Clearly, the possible causes of autism are numerous and complicated in their interrelatedness and more research is needed to be able to answer questions of prevention.

Need for Verification & Critical Thinking

Sometimes people read research findings and misconstrue them. Celebrities, media, and the general public may summarize a take away from a paper and miss important qualifications and explanations of the findings. This is when critical thinking and thorough fact checking is important.

I for one certainly understand how easy it is to read a headline while scrolling through Facebook or surfing other media sources click on it, read it, and take what is said as truths. The thing is, it’s really easy to write something people will believe. There’s a whole form of writing based on it. I don’t take the time to fact check and research on multiple sources everything I read on the internet. That’d be pretty much impossible and pretty useless for a lot of topics. However, there are certainly some topics or more importance that it is necessary to research further, check sources, and apply critical thinking skills.

As a science major who is hoping to become a physician, I am convinced of truth by scientific research and evidence. However, I will be working with the general public on a daily basis and not everyone makes decisions on what they believe based on science and critical thinking. Celebrities, trusted people, family, friends, and religions influence people’s beliefs. All those sources are great for forming a person’s beliefs regarding life, but when it comes to beliefs about personal health and disease scientific research is key to finding truths.

For more on environmental factors and autism: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548163/pdf/fpsyt-03-00118.pdf

For more on ASD-risk genes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5501701/pdf/nihms6544.pdf

Feature image: https://elbiruniblogspotcom.blogspot.com/2015/01/gene-gene-and-gene-environment.html

Vaccine image and vaccine myths: http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/08/19/spc-vital-signs-polio-vaccines-c.cnn

Critical thinking image: https://funginstitute.berkeley.edu/research/