UNC researchers uncover potential cause for autism

Posted August 28, 2013
Updated August 29, 2013

UNC-Chapel Hill seal on sidewalk

— Research on a key group of enzymes has led scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine to discover a potential cause for autism spectrum disorder.

Their study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, focuses on how a chemical that is commonly used in chemotherapy drugs damages enzymes called topoisomerases. They found that the impaired enzymes significantly interfered with neurological development.

The finding could have important implications for detection and prevention of autism, the researchers said.

“Our study shows the magnitude of what can happen if topoisomerases are impaired,” senior study author Mark Zylka, associate professor in the Neuroscience Center and the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at UNC, said in a statement. “Inhibiting these enzymes has the potential to profoundly affect neurodevelopment — perhaps even more so than having a mutation in any one of the genes that have been linked to autism.”

Zylka said the discovery will push researchers to look at an environmental component to developmental disorders.

“A temporary exposure to a topoisomerase inhibitor in utero has the potential to have a long-lasting effect on the brain by affecting critical periods of brain development.”


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • peace2u Sep 5, 2013

    Thank you UNC Scientists for your hard work!!

  • Pseudonym Sep 4, 2013

    How about the use of artificial colors and flavors, gluten, hormones, and other laboratory-created chemicals in the foods and snacks that we shove down our children's throats? Surely it couldn't be that??

  • swoodley Aug 29, 2013

    Dr. Stephanie Seneff, research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ... research regarding the increasing use of glyphosate and skyrocketing autism rates:
    More info at: