Stony Brook University Mind/Brain Lecture: The Connection Between Genetics and Autism

Released: 26-Mar-2013 3:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Stony Brook University
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Newswise — STONY BROOK, NY, March 26, 2013 – The possible link between genetics and the development of autism will be the topic of the 17th Annual Swartz Foundation Mind/Brain Lecture at Stony Brook University on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm on the Main Stage of the Staller Center for the Arts. Guest lecturer Michael Wigler, Professor of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a trailblazer in the field of biomedical research, will present his findings on the connection.

The lecture, “Considering the Genetics of Cognitive Function Through the Prism of Autism,” is intended for a general audience and free and open to the public. The Mind/Brain Lecture Series is sponsored by Stony Brook University and its Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, and by The Swartz Foundation, which supports research at 11 centers for theoretical and computational neuroscience.

During the discussion, Professor Wigler will detail how genetics may be involved in the development of autism. The terms “autism” and “autism spectrum disorders” are used to describe a common developmental cognitive-behavioral disorder characterized by disabling defects in social response and communication, along with inappropriate repetitive behaviors. There is a strong male bias among those diagnosed, especially among the lesser affected. While the influence of the environment is a factor in causation, the involvement of genetics is clear.

The autism risk for a newborn is more than tenfold higher if a prior sibling has the disorder, and nearly 50 percent for a male newborn if two previous siblings have been affected. Professor Wigler will discuss the evidence that new mutations in the parental germline, especially the father’s, contributes to the disorder, and increases with parental age. He will present a unified model that seeks to explain sporadic and familial autism.

Professor Wigler’s lab estimates from the mutation data that the number of target genes is on the order of hundreds, and they have identified several dozen likely gene targets, many of which may be linked to neuroplasticity, the process by which our brains adapt to change. Although a very significant advance, the genetics does not yet fully explain the observed incidence rate. Professor Wigler will discuss the reason why, what scientists may be missing and what his research may mean for future treatment of those with autism.

“The Swartz Foundation is pleased to have Professor Wigler as the guest lecturer at the 2013 Mind/Brain Lecture,” said Dr. Jerome Swartz, Chairman of The Swartz Foundation. “Professor Wigler's work on autism, especially the effects of new mutations of the gene transfers on the newborn's neural systems, are an intriguing and potentially powerful insight into a growing and frightening disease epidemic. It is very likely that not only will this research provide important information on autism, but it may also give us further insights into the normal workings of our neurological structures.”

Please arrive early as seating is limited. A reception with the speaker will immediately follow the talk. For more on the lecture and to watch a preview video of Professor Wigler discussing his genetic/autism research, visit


About the Speaker
Michael Wigler has been a trailblazer in the field of biomedical research, including human genetic disorders, population genetics and cancer genomics, and his contributions to the field of mammalian genetics have led to breakthroughs in the treatment of strokes, heart disease and cancer. Wigler’s work on mammalian cell gene transfer is nothing short of groundbreaking — with several major scientific discoveries occurring behind the walls of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he has been since 1979. Wigler remains on the forefront of molecular cancer research, unraveling the mysteries of the genetic mutations driving the evolution of cancer cells and those that underlie genetic diseases, such as autism, and discovering new disease-causing genes.

About The Swartz Foundation
The Swartz Foundation was established by Jerry Swartz in 1994 to explore the application of mathematical physics, computer science and engineering principles to neurobiology, as a path to better understand the brain/mind relationship. The Foundation supports post-doc research in computational neuroscience at 11 universities and scientific institutions, through centers at Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Columbia University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and UC San Diego, and in partnership with the Sloan Foundation at their five Centers for Theoretical Neurobiology at Salk Institute, Cal Tech, UC San Francisco, NYU/Courant and Brandeis University. Learn more at

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