Causes of Cerebral Palsy Not What We Thought

Canadian study looks at the DNA of stricken children
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2015 4:09 PM CDT
Causes of Cerebral Palsy Not What We Thought
In a photo taken April 16, 2015, Braden Gandee, 8, who has cerebral palsy, tries out his new customized walker at the Design Expo in Ann Arbor, Mich.   (Tom Hawley/The Monroe Evening News via AP)

Parents of children with cerebral palsy, take note: Your child's illness may be in the genes. A surprising new study in Nature is linking cerebral palsy to genetic variants and challenging the notion that environmental factors are solely responsible, the Globe & Mail reports. "Nobody really wanted us to do this [study], because they were told over the years that genetics doesn’t have a role," says study co-author Stephen Scherer. "We did it anyway." In testing genes of 115 kids with the disorder and their parents, chromosomal abnormalities turned up in 10% of the children. And 10% is apparently huge: "This was shocking," says Scherer. "When I told a bunch of people in the clinical genetics unit, they literally fell off their chairs."

The abnormalities the kids have are copy number variations (CNVs). The Globe & Mail explains than rather than having two copies their genes (one from mom and one from dad), these kids had one or three; one had either been deleted or copied. Scherer says we all have CNVs, but "some of these kids have massive CNVs that affect dozens and hundreds of genes." Until now, scientists believed cerebral palsy (the most common reason for physical disability in kids) was caused by physical issues like an infection or stroke in babies during pregnancy or birth, according to a press release. Genetic causes were only considered when no environmental ones were found. Now researchers say genetic testing may become standard, both to inform parents and spot other disorders, the Montreal Gazette reports. (Read about a family whose four children mysteriously lost the ability to walk.)

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