Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders typically characterized by difficulties in social interactions and delayed or abnormal language development. Although ASD reportedly affects 1 in 88 people in the United States, to date there have been no distinctive biomarkers to diagnose the disease. In a special themed issue of Disease Markers, investigators report on the current understanding of ASD genetics and the possibilities of translating genetic research toward biomarker development in ASD.
"Although some individuals with ASD are highly functional, many are severely impaired and require permanent care. The significant level of impairment combined with the fact that no specific therapy is yet available for ASD, make ASD a devastating illness for patients and families, and a heavy financial burden for the healthcare system," says guest editor, Irina Voineagu, MD, PhD, RIKEN Omics Science Center, Yokohama, Japan. "The most effective intervention for ASD has proven to be early behavioral therapy. Thus the identification of biological markers for ASD, allowing very early detection, even before the onset of symptoms, would be of tremendous value."
Five articles comprise this comprehensive issue, providing an overview of ASD genetic models, an exploration of several key emerging concepts in understanding ASD's molecular basis, and discussion of current biomarker development, focusing on genomic data.
Following an introduction by Voineagu, Yuri Bozzi and colleagues review the phenotype characteristics of currently available mouse models of ASD. Carmen Panaitof then discusses the role of the songbird as an experimental model system for investigating the genetic basis of human language and its ASD-related impairments. Michael Bowers and Genevieve Konopka further explore language deficits and provide new evidence for the role of the FOXP gene to regulate language. Alka Saxena, Dave Tang, and Piero Carninci focus on the functional roles of the gene MECP2, which is mutated in most cases of Rett syndrome, one of the ASDs.