SOURCE: University of Edinburgh, news release, March 10, 2015
THURSDAY, March 12, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Genes believed to increase the risk of autism may also be linked with higher intelligence, a new study suggests.
Researchers analyzed the DNA of nearly 10,000 people in Scotland and also tested their thinking abilities. On average, those who had genes associated with autism scored slightly higher on the thinking (cognitive) tests.
Having autism-linked genes doesn't mean that people will develop the disorder, the researchers noted.
Similar evidence of an association between autism-linked genes and intelligence was found in previous testing of 921 teens in Australia, according to the study published March 10 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
"Our findings show that genetic variation which increases risk for autism is associated with better cognitive ability in non-autistic individuals," said study leader Toni-Kim Clarke, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
"As we begin to understand how genetic variants associated with autism impact brain function, we may begin to further understand the nature of autistic intelligence," Clarke said in a university news release.
Another researcher went further. "This study suggests genes for autism may actually confer, on average, a small intellectual advantage in those who carry them, provided they are not affected by autism," Nick Martin, head of the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory at the Queensland Institute for Medical Research in Australia, said in the news release.
While 70 percent of people with autism have intellectual disabilities, some people with the disorder have higher-than-average nonverbal intelligence, the study authors noted.
The study only revealed an association, and not a cause-and-effect link, between autism-related genes and intelligence.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.