Mito Mightily Disappoints Autism Researchers

DNA-basesBy Amick B.
Research shows a strong genetic basis for autism, but for years scientists have been unable to pinpoint the specific genetic variants associated with the condition, which may affect as many as one in 88 children in the United States.

For some time now researchers have speculated that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) may be involved in autism.  Mitochondrial DNA , which is passed down from mother to child, is found in the cell’s mitochondria — distinct structures that act as a power plant for the cells by converting oxygen and simple sugars into readily-usable energy. Scientists have hypothesized that byproducts or problems with this process might be related to the development of autism spectrum disorders.

A recent study, however, suggests that genetic variants in mtDNA may not be as important as some had supposed.  The researchers, led by Athena Hadjixenofontos and Jacob  McCauley from the University of Miami, considered mtDNA from nearly 1300 individuals from various ancestral backgrounds with autism spectrum disorders.  They looked at both associations with mitochondrial haplogroups as well as individual variants within the mtDNA.  In both cases, they came up empty handed. The mito was mightily disappointing.

Although no significant associations resulted from this study, the mitochondrial genome remains an intriguing potential path toward further investigation into the genetics of disorders on the spectrum.  It may be that with larger sample sizes they may find that mtDNA plays an important role in autism genetics after all.  Or, it may be that with further research they will be able to conclusively rule out the role of mtDNA.  Either way, we’ll come closer to understanding this common condition.






  • ken newelt

    Hmm. I wonder, if it’s not mt DNA might it possibly come from….dad’s DNA? The increase in autism follows an increase in technology, particularly laptop or desktop computers. As a therapist, I see MANY families with autistic children, and in almost every case the father’s have experienced long term use of computers close to their lower torsos. Is it possible long term exposure to the radiation is affecting DNA? Perhaps that coupled with the age and relative health of the father? Has that been explored?

    • CMB1154

      That’s an interesting point. My child was just diagnosed with autism phenotype & her father has worked in the Army on radars/satellites for about 9 years frequently exposed to radiation.

  • Barbara VOKOMER

    my greatgrandson is autistic. My nephew is autistic. I have a cousin who has two greatgrandchild that are autistic??????? Any ideas.

  • carmen

    Does this test not show up the DNA factors at all for Autism? That’s why I bought this kit!.

    • ScottH

      Although autism is known to have a genetic component, at present our reports do not include a report on Autism because researchers have yet to find specific genetic variants associated with the condition. We have written several posts on some of the latest research on Autism. If you’d like to know more about the more than 250 health reports we have for customers you can go here.

Return to top