- Evolutionary approaches to autism: an overview and integration
- McGill Journal of Medicine
- Volume | Issue number
- 13 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Autism is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder, which greatly reduces reproductive success. The combination of high heritability and low reproductive success raises an evolutionary question: why was autism not eliminated by natural selection? We review different perspectives on the evolution of autism and propose an integration which emphasizes epistatic interactions between the effects of genes during development. It is well-established that autism is a polygenic disorder, and that the genes contributing to autism interact. If a disorder is polygenic, it is likely that the genes underlying the disorder are also involved in traits that are beneficial for the individual. For example, it is possible that genes involved in the development of autism are also involved in the development of intelligence. As intelligence is positively correlated with reproductive success, genes involved in autism can possibly spread in the population. We propose that in most individuals, the interactions between genes result in normal or high intelligence and the absence of autism. However, in some unlucky situations, often in combination with spontaneous negative mutations, the interactions between genes can lead to the development of autism (or other pathologies). Thus, the combination of high heritability and low reproductive success in autism can be explained from an evolutionary developmental perspective that emphasizes the role of epistatic interactions in polygenic disorders.
KEYWORDS: Autism, evolutionary psychology, heritability, epistatis
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