For the first time, scientists say they’ve recreated common autism traits in mice by mutating a single gene, a finding that bolsters support for the idea that autism has genetic roots and could help develop drugs to treat the disorder.

The gene mutation, known as Shank3, is among hundreds that have been linked with autism. When present in mice, the animals exhibited common characteristics of autism such as compulsive, repetitive behavior and a disinterest in socializing, according to study findings published online in the journal Nature this week.

“We now have a very robust model with a known cause for autistic-like behaviors. We can figure out the neural circuits responsible for these behaviors, which could lead to novel targets for treatment,” says Guoping Feng, senior author of the study and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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While not all individuals with autism are affected by Shank3, Feng and his colleagues are now studying whether others with the disorder are impacted by similar genes, which allow brain cells to talk to each other. If this is the case, he says, it may be possible to develop treatments to improve communication between brain cells, which could minimize behaviors associated with autism.