Highlights from October 1, 2015 "Early Germline Events in the Heritable Etiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders" Webinar
On October 1, 2015, the Escher Fund for Autism, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Science Foundation co-sponsored this inaugural online symposium. Attendees included laypeople and researchers from many different fields, but all interested in the intersection between genes, exposures, and disruptions in the instructions that control normal neurodevelopment.
The webinar explored emerging concepts in basic reproductive biology and also the heritability of ASDs. We know that autism is highly heritable, in the sense that ASD risk is higher among siblings, but it's not shown to be highly "genetic" in the classic sense that these traits or genes are passed from generation to generation.
To probe what might lie underneath these observations, we felt it important to take a multidisciplinary approach, starting with the complicated biology of germ cells themselves. The unique molecular biology and particular vulnerabilities of the early germline may inform the risk of the "de novo" events we see in autism. By de novo we mean genetic and epigenetic changes arising in the parents' egg or sperm, but not seen in the parents themselves.
This effort only scratched the surface of this vast and rapidly developing subject matter, but, we hope it will prompt deeper thinking about autism genetics and inspire further research that may help to connect the dots.
Watch the webinar here.
Jill Escher, Escher Fund for Autism, is a California-based science philanthropist and mother of two children with severe autism, focused on the question of how environmentally induced germline disruptions may be contributing to today's epidemics of neurodevelopmental impairment. You can read about her discovery of her intensive prenatal exposure to synthetic hormone drugs here. Jill is also president of Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area.