Three studies published this week establish a link between genetics and autism.

Scientists have long thought that there may be such a link, but this new research shows the strongest possibility yet.

The studies looked at more than 12,000 people including those with autism and their families and found that many people with autism share genetic differences in the way that their brain cells communicate with each other.

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Two studies identified a gene region that may be responsible for up to 15 percent of autism cases. Another study found stretches of DNA that are missing or appear duplicated.

Nonetheless, researchers say that the genes alone do not guarantee a diagnosis of autism and that environmental factors also likely contribute.

“It moves the field of autism research significantly ahead,” says Philip R. Johnson, M.D., chief scientific officer at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where some of the research was conducted. “This discovery provides a starting point for translating biological knowledge into future autism treatments.”