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Gene flaws are found in patients with autism

Scientists found a range of genetic damage in patients with autism, evidence the brain disorder has many causes, a report said yesterday.

At least 100 genetic flaws might be involved in the condition, said Jonathan Sebat, a researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York who led a study the journal Science published online yesterday.

Researchers not involved in the study said it was helpful in understanding how the environment might lead to autism by causing genetic changes.

"It's a wonderful study and it leads us in a new direction," said Ezra Susser, chairman of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York, in a telephone interview this week. "It shows us that we need to think about many environmental factors that might influence autism."

The study compared selected genetic regions in 195 people with autism and in 196 healthy people. In just one section, Sebat said, he found 20 genes in which patients had abnormal numbers of repeated segments of DNA -- either more or fewer copies than commonly seen.

At least 100 mutations with links to autism are likely to appear as the analysis of patients' genes expands and more types of mutations are included, Sebat said.