A sweeping study of hundreds of families with autism has found that spontaneous mutations can occur in a parent's sperm or egg cells that increase a child's risk for autism, and fathers are four times more likely than mothers to pass these mutations on to their children, researchers said on Wednesday.
The results of three new studies, published in the journal Nature, suggest mutations in parts of genes that code for proteins - called the exome - play a significant role in autism.
And while these genetic mistakes can occur across the genetic code, and many are harmless, they can cause big problems when they occur in parts of the genome needed for brain development. One of the three teams found these glitches may result in a five to 20 times higher risk of developing autism.
"These results confirm that it's not the size of the genetic anomaly that confers risk, but its location," said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the National Institutes of Health, which funded one of the studies.
Image: Lab test tube, via Shutterstock.