An understudied chemical modification that influences gene expression is abundant in the brains of people with autism, according to a new study1. The results are too preliminary to be conclusive, but they point to new avenues of study, experts say.
The new study focuses on ‘nonCpG’ methylation, in which a methyl group sticks to cytosines followed by a DNA base other than guanine. This type of methylation is found almost exclusively in the brain.
In particular, efforts to study the role of DNA modifications in autism might center on this class of chemical modification, says Hongjun Song, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, who was not involved in this study. “There’s a lot more cytosines to look at in terms of methylation,” Song says, rather than just those followed by a guanine.
The researchers found that brain tissue from 29 people with autism has double the number of tagged nonCpG sites as tissue from 34 controls. These sites do not fall within autism genes, but cluster in regulatory regions of the genome.
[Read the full study here.]
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