Using Proteomics to Explain Autism

Protein molecule
Inside a protein molecule

Using proteomics to explain autism can shed light on possible causes, and possible cures, for the developmental disorder.

What Is Proteomics?

Proteomics is "the analysis of the expression, localization, functions, and interactions of the proteins produced by the genes of an organism." Proteins are critical elements in organisms, and proteomics study all the proteins that make up living things. The science is complicated, and it involves more than focusing on the proteins themselves. The science looks into:

  • Where the proteins are located
  • How they function
  • How they interact
  • How they affect the organism
  • Changes they undergo

The ambitious field of study seeks to pinpoint all the proteins in the body, and evaluate how they function. This is difficult because there are about 400,000 different proteins in the human proteome. To further complicate the issue, the proteins:

  • Change within single cells
  • Change locations in the body during different stages of life

Can using proteomics to explain autism lead to finding causes of the disorders, and effective treatments?

Using Proteomics to Explain Autism

Using proteomics to explain autism can begin with a look at the Human Genomes Project with the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy. The project seeks to collect information about human DNA, store the findings, and translate technologies to the private sector for studies.

Genomes and Proteomes

According to the Human Genome Project Information website, a genome is the entire makeup of DNA (including its genes) in an organism. The genes carry information that make up the proteins that the organism needs. The proteome determines:

  • How the organism looks
  • Metabolic rate
  • Behavior
  • Ability to fight infection

Behavior and Genetics

The broader autism phenotype is an interesting element that makes the idea of autistic disorders as having genetic causes reasonable. Often, parents, siblings and other relatives of individuals on the autism spectrum share some autistic characteristics on a subclinical level. They are able to function well, but some autistic traits are present.

Behavioral genetics examine the possibility that some behaviors are inherited, and that they stem from genetic material, including protein function. The study of behavioral genetics can look at single gene mutations, as in cases of Down's syndrome and Rett's disorder. Studies become more complicated in pervasive developmental disorders that may have a number of different genetic components that come into play. If proteins play a role in behavior then they play a role in autistic behavior.

NAAR Autism Genome Project

NAAR Autism Genome Project seeks to find which genes make individuals susceptible to autistic disorders. The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the research organization affiliated with the project, has the Center for Proteomics which is a valuable resource for people who want to learn about using proteomics to explain autism.

Protein biomarkers may help detect autism one day, and this could lead to early diagnosis that has a biological rather than observational basis, as well as the development of therapeutic interventions and possible medications to treat the disorders.

The Autism Genome Project, with support from the National Institute of Mental Health, has found a site on chromosome 11 and the brain's glutamate chemical messenger system to play possible roles in susceptibility to develop autism.

Quick Explanation of Proteomics and Autism

According to Science Daily's article Missing Protein May be Key to Autism, a protein that helps develop synapses in the brain may be missing in individuals with autism. This can interfere with normal brain function. Autism is a complex neurological condition that may stem from proteomic abnormalities.

Healing the autistic brain may begin with pinpointing genetic causes for the disorder. The genetic abnormalities may interfere with the development of proteins that serve important purposes in brain function.

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Using Proteomics to Explain Autism