Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

NIH to Fund Research into Environmental, Genetic Basis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health plans to fund researchers who will study environmental factors that contribute to risk for autism spectrum disorders, and will use a range of genomic and toxicological approaches to find out how these contributors may cause ASD.

NIH said in a funding announcement on Friday it is particularly interested in supporting projects that examine the joint contribution of genes and the environment in ASD.

The new funding from will provide up to $400,000 per year for five years to support research project grants and up to $275,00 over two years for high-risk exploratory and developmental projects.

The institutes to fund these awards include the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Multiple studies have pointed to a strong genomic basis for ASD, and many of the genes and rare structural variants that appear to be involved also converge around a few common pathways, NIH said. Progress also has been made recently to link environmental contributors to ASD, and to their interaction with genetic and genomic susceptibilities. However, most of these environmental and genomic studies have been happening separately, in parallel. NIH wants this funding to spur research projects that begin to address that overlap between the two types of causes for ASD.

These efforts may involve human clinical or population samples, and may use computational tools and in silico modeling to integrate knowledge about gene, proteins, and pathways; identify biomarkers of susceptibility to exposures, such as changes in gene expression or mitochondrial response); or identify patterns of epigenetic and epigenomic alterations in ASD and explore how they are impacted by environmental exposures, among other studies.

Scientists also may propose developing or using in vitro, cellular, or whole organism models that could be used to study how environmental exposures interact with genes and environmental pathways, to recapitulate features of ASD to determine how exposures alter phenotypes, to incorporate in vitro or in vivo assays to develop gene-environment hypotheses, and to use induced pluripotent stem cells to explore patterns of sensitivity and resistance to environmental exposures.