Cancer and Autism Share a Remarkable Number of Risk Genes in Common

Cancer and Autism Share a Remarkable Number of Risk Genes in Common

Researchers with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, MIND Institute identify more than 40 common genes.


Autism and cancer share more than 40 risk genes, suggesting that common mechanisms underlying the functions of some of these genes could conceivably be leveraged to develop therapies not just for cancer but for autism as well, an extensive assessment by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute and Comprehensive Cancer Center has found.


The authors identified 43 specific genes with autism susceptibility that also have an association with cancer.


“This striking coincidence of a remarkably large number of genes implicated in both autism spectrum disorder and cancers has not been previously highlighted in the scientific literature,” said Jacqueline Crawley, MIND Institute distinguished professor and endowed chair. “Potentially common biological mechanisms suggest that it may be possible to repurpose drug treatments for cancer as potential therapeutics for neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Autism and Cancer Shared Risk Genes, Pathways and Drug Targets,” is published online in Trends in Genetics, a Cell Symposia publication. Crawley collaborated on the work with professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, who is affiliated with the Cancer Center and Janine LaSalle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who is associated with the MIND Institute.


“Autisms” are best conceptualized like cancers, the authors write: in the plural. Like cancers, the behaviorally defined condition encompasses a broad range of putative causes, symptoms and outcomes.

Junita Rai

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