While the idea of genetic mutations being in play for autism to develop has been regularly suggested, isolating which genes specifically impact the disorder has been a challenge. Researchers recently modified the gene pten, which impacts use of the mitochondria in cells, and created a model of similar behaviors as those seen in autism spectrum disorders in laboratory mice. Mice were noted to exhibit repetitive, self-soothing behaviors (grooming) and to avoid social interaction with other mice, following the modification to pten.
Changes to pten have been linked to Alzheimers in the past, with current research being applied to autism and schizophrenia, as well as some other behavioral disorders. The current outcome focus of this finding is on finding and developing medications to remedy or limit the influence of pten on the development of such disorders, with much research necessary prior to modifying treatment.
Mitochondrial DNA has been a target for research in autism spectrum disorders for many years and current research into pten may help explain some findings suggesting that mitochondria are affected in those diagnosed with autism.