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A macroepigenetic approach to identify factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States

Renee Dufault12*, Walter J Lukiw3, Raquel Crider4, Roseanne Schnoll5, David Wallinga6 and Richard Deth7

Author Affiliations

1 Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute, Ocean View, HI, USA

2 United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND, USA

3 Department of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, Louisiana State University Neuroscience Center, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA, USA

4 Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV, USA

5 Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, Brooklyn College of City, University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, USA

6 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MN, USA

7 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA

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Clinical Epigenetics 2012, 4:6  doi:10.1186/1868-7083-4-6

Published: 10 April 2012


The number of children ages 6 to 21 in the United States receiving special education services under the autism disability category increased 91% between 2005 to 2010 while the number of children receiving special education services overall declined by 5%. The demand for special education services continues to rise in disability categories associated with pervasive developmental disorders. Neurodevelopment can be adversely impacted when gene expression is altered by dietary transcription factors, such as zinc insufficiency or deficiency, or by exposure to toxic substances found in our environment, such as mercury or organophosphate pesticides. Gene expression patterns differ geographically between populations and within populations. Gene variants of paraoxonase-1 are associated with autism in North America, but not in Italy, indicating regional specificity in gene-environment interactions. In the current review, we utilize a novel macroepigenetic approach to compare variations in diet and toxic substance exposure between these two geographical populations to determine the likely factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States.

Autism; DNA methylation; Environmental epigenetics; Heavy metals; HFCS; PON1; SAM; Zn