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Study by Kenneth Gadow, PhD and Colleagues Advances Understanding of Genetic Risk Factors for Depression in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Kenneth Gadow, PhD

July 1, 2014 - A new study by Professor Kenneth Gadow, PhD and others confirmed a link between a variant in the gene that controls the expression of serotonin 2A receptors and the severity of symptoms of depression in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Up to 70% of people with autism spectrum disorder experience symptoms of depression at some time in their lives. The identification of the genetic risk factors behind this phenomenon would aid doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of depression and provide scientists with new tools in their search for the biological mechanisms that link depression and autism.

For the past three decades, scientists have been accumulating evidence that genetic variants in the genes controlling the expression of serotonin 2A receptors play a role in the development of psychiatric disorders. Two polymorphisms (rs6311 and rs6314) have been shown to be associated with the severity of symptoms of depression in adults diagnosed with depression. Dr. Gadow and his colleagues set out to discover if the same is true of children with autism spectrum disorder. Analyzing data from 104 children who participated in their study, Dr. Gadow and associates found that children with one of the alleles of rs6311 (the G allele) had significantly more severe symptoms of depression than those with the other variants. They found no significant associations between alleles of rs6314 and severity of depression, although they noted that additional studies with larger sample sizes may reveal a connection.

The article titled “Serotonin 2A Receptor Gene (HTR2A) Regulatory Variants: Possible Association with Severity of Depression Symptoms in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” appeared in the June 2014 issue of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.