New research suggests autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may share origins with other mental illnesses — including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
ASD includes conditions characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication, or repetitive behaviors, including autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.
Mark Weiser, M.D., of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center, noted that schizophrenia and bipolar share many common traits, including social and cognitive dysfunction and impaired ability to lead normal lives and function in the real world.
Weiser and his team studied extensive databases in Israel and Sweden and discovered that schizophrenia and autism had a genetic link, representing a heightened risk within families.
They found that people who have a schizophrenic sibling are 12 times more likely to have autism than those with no schizophrenia in the family. The presence of bipolar disorder in a sibling showed a similar pattern of association, but to a lesser degree.
In the study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers used three data sets (one in Israel and two in Sweden) to determine the familial connection between schizophrenia and autism. The Israeli database included anonymous information about more than a million soldiers, including patients with schizophrenia and ASD.
“We found the same results in all three data sets,” said Weiser, noting that the ability to replicate the findings across these extensive databases is what makes this study so significant.
Researchers believe the genetic connection could be a missing link and provide a fresh direction for study.
Despite the similar familial origins, Weiser believes the findings shouldn’t influence the way that doctors treat patients with either illness.