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Could a Virus Possibly Cause Autism? - March 30, 2011

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[Source: The Simmons Foundation Autism Research Initiative]

For some individuals, autism begins at conception, when an infected sperm cell transmits a virus to the egg: that is the provocative new hypothesis of a group in Italy based on data from brain tissue and semen.

Last year, Antonio Persico and colleagues reported that traces of polyomaviruses — a family of common viruses that can cause tumors — are more likely to crop up in postmortem brain tissue of individuals with autism than in that of healthy controls1. In unpublished work, the researchers have also found that seminal fluid from fathers of children with autism is more likely to carry polyomavirus than is fluid from fathers of healthy children.

How a sperm might transmit a virus, and how the virus would then cause autism is unclear, which makes some experts deeply skeptical.

"It's something that may serve as pioneering work, but needs to be completed," notes S. Hossein Fatemi, professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

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Tags: News of the Week Autism Newsletter 1 April 2011