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Genes confer intelligence ... and increase autism risk

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2017 - Spring


Genetic variants that have persisted through human evolution appear to enhance intellectual accomplishment while increasing the risk of autism spectrum disorders, Yale researchers reported in a study published in the journal PLOS Genetics in February. The variants appear to have been conserved to a greater extent than mere chance would suggest. Typically, variants that curtail reproductive success drop out of the gene pool quickly, while those that enhance survival remain for generations. “In this case, we found a strong positive signal that, along with autism spectrum disorder, these variants are also associated with intellectual achievement,” said first author Renato Polimanti, Ph.D., associate research scientist.

“The idea is that during evolution these variants that have positive effects on cognitive function were selected, but at a cost—in this case, an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders,” said co-author Joel Gelernter, M.D., Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics and of neuroscience.

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