Autism linked to vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, researchers find

Autism linked to vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, researchers find, by AAP.

The important role vitamin D plays in early life is back in the spotlight after Australian researchers noticed a link between a deficiency during pregnancy and autism.

The study found pregnant women with low vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six. …

Vitamin D usually comes from exposure to the sun, but it can also be found in some foods and supplements. While it’s widely known vitamin D is vital for maintaining healthy bones, there’s also a solid body of evidence linking it to brain growth.

The study examined approximately 4,200 blood samples from pregnant women and their children, who were closely monitored as part of the long-term “Generation R” study in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

My best guess is that there is a genetic component but the increase in autism cases recently is due to some environmental factor that changed and a certain gene cluster find that change hard to deal with — perhaps dietary shifts, microflora changes, lower Vitamin D, folic acid supplements, and ultrasound. There are so many candidates.

Brains of people with autism spectrum disorder share similar molecular abnormalities, by Science Daily.

The brains of people with autism, despite different causes, tend to have the same molecular “signature,” new evidence suggests.

The study also confirmed a previous finding that in the brains of people with autism, the patterns of gene activity in the frontal and temporal lobes are almost the same. In people who don’t have autism, the two regions develop distinctly different patterns during childhood. The new study suggests that SOX5, a gene with a known role in early brain development, contributes to the failure of the two regions to diverge in people with autism.

Autism and human evolutionary success, by Science Daily.

A subtle change occurred in our evolutionary history 100,000 years ago which allowed people who thought and behaved differently — such as individuals with autism — to be integrated into society, academics from the University of York have concluded.

The change happened with the emergence of collaborative morality — an investment in the well-being of everyone in the group — and meant people who displayed autistic traits would not only have been accepted but possibly respected for their unique skills.

It is likely our ancestors would have had autism, with genetics suggesting the condition has a long evolutionary history.

But rather than being left behind, or at best tolerated, the research team conclude that many would have played an important role in their social group because of their unique skills and talents.

“We are arguing that diversity, variation between people, was probably more significant in human evolutionary success than the characteristics of one person, “said Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the archaeology of human origins, at the University of York.

Maybe, and this is just a wild guess, this has something to do with our Neanderthal heritage?

Neanderthals were a group of humans who lived in Europe and Western Asia. They are the closest evolutionary relatives of modern humans, but they went extinct about 40,000 years ago. … Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis – and modern humans – Homo sapiens – lived along side each other for thousands of years. Genetic evidence suggest that they interbred and although Neanderthals disappeared about 40,000 years ago, traces of their DNA — between 1 percent and 4 percent — are found in all modern humans outside of Africa.

The next decade should be interesting as advances in genetics unravel these mysteries.

hat-tip Joanne