When and where are often key clues for epidemiologists, medical sleuths who help solve the underlying mysteries of disease. The technology dates back at least to his 19th-century London, where a doctor named John Snow mapped cholera deaths and traced the origin of the outbreak to his one well in the city. The epidemic ended when the well was closed.
Taking this idea to a new level, health scientists at the University of Utah, using a unique combination of geographic and demographic data, recently discovered when and where the parents and grandparents of children in Utah were born and raised with autism. concluded that it may contribute to an increased risk of descendants.
Scientists believe that this new approach could be used to investigate the temporal and spatial aspects of any disease for which genealogical information is available.
Research published in International Journal of Health Geographics, one of the first to assess the effects of time and space (when, where) across generations on increased risk of autism. Over time, the findings could lead to the identification of environmental factors, such as exposure to pollutants, that can have destructive effects on genetic information passed on from generation to generation, the researchers say.
“Looking back at families and where and when they lived helped us detect clusters of individuals who might be at increased risk for autism among their offspring,” said U of U Health’s Department of Public Health. says James VanDerslice, an environmental epidemiologist at Senior author of the study. “Knowing that the parents and grandparents of children with autism shared space and time brings us closer to understanding the environmental factors that may have influenced this health condition.”
Transgenerational epidemiological studies are difficult and time-consuming, says Rebecca Richards Steed, the study’s principal investigator and a graduate student in the Department of Geography at the University of Utah. In fact, most of these studies have been done in animals, which reproduce quickly and can be followed for several generations in a shorter period of time than humans.
VanDerslice and Richards-Steed use existing technology in new ways to examine existing data available to parents and grandparents to identify locations and potential risk factors that increase disease risk in the next generation. By specifying the time period, we avoided this drawback.
Researchers used the Utah Registry of Autism and Developmental Disabilities in conjunction with the Utah Population Database (UPDB) to identify parents and grandparents of children with autism born between 1989 and 2014. Did.
UPDB’s birth certificates, driver’s license information, census and medical records helped scientists track when and where these individuals lived. UPDB is one of the few databases in the world that contains this kind of information.
For comparison, we randomly selected parents and grandparents of children not diagnosed with autism from the UPDB database. The individual’s name was withheld from researchers.
In all, VanDerslice and colleagues identified where 7,900 parents and 31,600 grandparents were born and raised. They identified 20 major clusters, or groups, scattered throughout the state. After analysis, 13 of the 20 clusters (9 grandparents, 4 parents) were associated with an increased risk of autism in their children or grandchildren. The odds of becoming autistic were about three times higher than expected.
“What we’ve seen is consistent with current scientific understanding that paternal genetics is key to evolutionary change and adaptation,” says Richards Steed. In the case of , it is very likely that the signals, partly shaped by environmental experience, come from the paternal lineage passed on to the family.”
Seven clusters, all located in rural areas, had a low risk of association between autism and family history.
“We don’t quite understand why some rural areas appeared to have what we would call protective effects,” says Richards-Steed. It is certainly possible that he had
“Based on our findings, we can say that what we are now exposed to is probably affecting not only us and our children, but possibly our children’s children as well. It means that there is
Going forward, researchers will delve deeper into factors such as lifestyle that may help explain these results.
“Evidence shows that our environment has a deterministic effect on our growth and development, including the germ cells we carry for our next generation,” he said. “Looking at the space and time that our ancestors shared can provide clues about environmental factors that may lead to biological changes that increase the risk of disease in future generations,” says VanDerslice. maybe.”
Scientists believe that this new approach could be used to investigate the temporal and spatial aspects of other conditions for which genealogical information is available.
“This idea is not unique to autism,” says Richards Steed. “This could be applied to any disease and could enhance our ability to understand how the confluence of genetic and environmental factors has long-term effects on family health.”
For more information:
Rebecca Richards, Steed et al., Evidence for transgenerational impact on autism spectrum disorders using multigenerational spatiotemporal cluster detection, International Journal of Health Geographics (2022). DOI: 10.1186/s12942-022-00313-4
Courtesy of the University of Utah
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