We Are 1 Step Closer to Discovering What Causes Autism (Spoilers: It's Not Vaccines)

In 2015, we know more about the causes of autism than we ever have before. Scientists know of about 1,000 genes involved in autism spectrum disorders, although until now, how those genes cause autism has been less clear. (Spoiler alert: Vaccines aren't involved.)

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Here's a crash course in high school biology basics: Genes provide the information for your body's cells to make proteins, and then it's proteins that do all the random little jobs that keep you alive. UBE3A is the name of one gene, and one that's sometimes mutated in autistic people. UBE3A is the instruction manual to make a protein that sends other proteins to the cell's recycling bin.

Usually a cell is cautious about how much UBE3A it makes, because while someone needs to make sure the cell is cleaning up after itself, you don't want to be wantonly throwing things away that you still need. But what scientists at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine found was that when the UBE3A gene is mutated as it is in some people with autism, the UBE3A gene is constantly in production. And that means that a lot of perfectly good proteins -- perfectly necessary proteins, in fact -- are getting destroyed for no reason. When scientists gave mice the same mutation as is found in people with autism, the mice started exhibiting autistic behaviors too!

More from The Stir: Don't Use My Autistic Son as a Reason Not to Vaccinate

Autism is a difficult condition for scientists to pin down just based on the sheer complexity involved: Figuring out what just one gene does can be one graduate student's entire project. Figuring out what a thousand do and how they interact with one another? That's a staggeringly huge question mark. But it's a question mark that the researchers at UNC and many other institutions are continuously chipping away at, and this is just the latest example of the constant forward progress we're making in our understanding of this disorder.

And of course, what isn't in question at all is the underlying nature of autism as a condition with complex genetic and environmental causes -- not one caused by vaccination. After plenty of massive studies showing that this is the case (along with, I assume, lots of research indicating that water is wet and where bears poop), hopefully scientists like those at UNC can now spend their time and energy pursuing a full understanding of these complex genetic factors instead of demonstrating time and again that there's absolutely no relationship between vaccines and autism.

 

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