A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2021 | Number 1, Volume 35

Biomarkers found in dads of children with ASD

Researchers in Spain and the United States have identified biomarkers in fathers’ sperm that may indicate an increased likelihood of having children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

Nicolás Garrido and colleagues examined DNA methylation—a chemical process that can turn genes on or off—in 13 men who had fathered children with ASD and 13 who had children without ASD. The researchers were able to use the presence of a set of DNA methylation alterations in sperm samples from the men who had children with ASD to identify with 90% accuracy whether 18 additional men had fathered children with ASD. Study coauthor Michael Skinner says, “We can now potentially use this to assess whether a man is going to pass autism on to his children.” 

Skinner notes that it is well established that environmental factors can alter the germline, the sperm or egg, or epigenetics (heritable changes in gene expression caused by factors such as the DNA methylation they studied). If the current findings are confirmed in larger studies, he says, researchers may be able to use the biomarkers seen in men who have children with ASD to determine which types of environmental factors can induce epigenetic changes in autism. 


“Sperm DNA methylation epimutation biomarker for paternal offspring autism susceptibility,” Nicolás Garrido, Fabio Cruz, Rocio Rivera Egea, Carlos Simon, Ingrid Sadler-Riggleman, Daniel Beck, Eric Nilsson, Millissia Ben Maamar, and Michael K. Skinner, Clinical Epigenetics, January 7, 2021 (free online). Address: Michael Skinner, [email protected]


“Biomarkers in fathers’ sperm linked to offspring autism,” Sara Zaske, WSU News, January 11, 2021