More than 40 risk genes are shared by autism and cancer. This suggests that common mechanisms underlying the functions of some of these genes could conceivably be leveraged to develop therapies not just for cancer but for autism as well. This was concluded through an extensive assessment by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute and Comprehensive Cancer Center. Fortythree specific genes were identified with autism susceptibility and were also associated with cancer. Jacqueline Crawley, MIND Institute, said there were a large number of genes implicated in both autism spectrum disorder and cancers not previously highlighted in the scientific literature. Common biological mechanisms suggest it may be possible to repurpose drug treatments for cancer as potential therapeutics for neurodevelopmental disorders.
“Autism and Cancer Shared Risk Genes, Pathways and Drug Targets” is published online in Trends in Genetics, a Cell Symposia publication that Crawley collaborated on with professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics WolfDietrich Heyer, who is affiliated with the Cancer Center and Janine LaSalle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology.
Autisms are best conceptualized like cancers where the behaviorally defined condition encompasses a broad range of putative causes, symptoms and outcomes. Genes implicated in both cancer and autism are genes for relatively rare syndromes such as Rett syndrome and tuberous sclerosis. Those sufferers experience an array of physical and neurological symptoms including intellectual disability as well as communication deficits characterized as autism.
Heyer states that errors associated with genome maintenance during fetal life may occur at critical time periods for brain development, resulting in neurodevelopmental disorder, whereas errors more commonly occurring during adult life in cell types are susceptible to tumors.
Their hope is that it may be possible to repurpose available cancer drugs with reasonable safety profiles as targeted treatments for ASD. Individuals with ASD who harbor a risk gene for autism that is also a risk gene for cancer, may enable therapeutic development of personalized medicines based on the specific causal mutation.