(photo credit: Ofira Shterenbeg/Tel Aviv University)
Autism Spectrum Disorders are developmental disorders diagnosed in one in 88
children, but new Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Center research has
found that ASD shares a root cause with psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia
and manic-depression (bipolar disorder).
Dr. Mark Weiser of Tel Aviv
University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center has
revealed a family history of the psychiatric diseases is a risk factor for
autism, which affects boys more often than girls and is usually diagnosed around
age two. The findings have been published in the journal Archives of General
At first glance, schizophrenia and autism look like very
different illnesses, he says.
But closer inspection reveals many common
traits, including social and cognitive dysfunction and a decreased ability to
lead normal lives and function in the real world.
ASD, a category that
includes autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, is
characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication or
repetitive behaviors. It is better diagnosed today, but nevertheless, it seems
to be much more common now; there has been a 10-fold increase in the last four
Studying extensive databases in Israel and Sweden, the
researchers discovered that the two illnesses had a genetic link, representing a
heightened risk within families.
They found that people who have a
schizophrenic sibling are 12 times more likely to have autism than those with no
schizophrenia in the family. The presence of bipolar disorder in a sibling
showed a similar pattern of association, but to a lesser degree.
by experts as a scientific leap forward, the study sheds new light on the
genetics of these disorders. The results will help scientists better understand
the genetics of mental illness, said Weiser on Tuesday, and may prove to be a
promising direction for future research.
The researchers used three data
sets, one in Israel and two in Sweden, to determine the familial connection
between schizophrenia and autism. The Israeli database alone, used under the
auspices of the ethics committees of both the Sheba at Tel Hashomer and the
Israeli Defense Forces, included anonymous information about more than a million
soldiers, including patients with schizophrenia and ASD.
“We found the
same results in all three data sets,” Dr. Weiser said, noting that the ability
to replicate the findings across these extensive databases is what makes this
study so significant.
Understanding this genetic connection could be a
missing link, Weiser added. He and his colleagues are now taking their findings
in a clinical direction. For now, though, the findings shouldn’t influence the
way that doctors treat patients with either illness, he added.
was done in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Carolina,
Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Kings College London, and the IDF Medical Corps.