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Autism: The Eusocial Hominid Hypothesis
ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are hypothesized as one of many adaptive human cognitive variations that have been maintained in modern populations via multiple genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Introgression from "archaic" hominids (adapted for less demanding social environments) is conjectured as the source of initial intraspecific heterogeneity because strict inclusive fitness does not adequately model the evolution of distinct, copy-number sensitive phenotypes within a freely reproducing population.
Evidence is given of divergent encephalization and brain organization in the Neanderthal (including a ~1520 cc cranial capacity, larger than that of modern humans) to explain the origin of the autism subgroup characterized by abnormal brain growth.
Autism and immune dysfunction are frequently comorbid. This supports an admixture model in light of the recent discovery that MHC alleles (genes linked to immune function, mate selection, neuronal "pruning," etc.) found in most modern human populations come from "archaic" hominids.
Mitochondrial dysfunction, differential fetal androgen exposure, lung abnormalities, and hypomethylation/CNV due to hybridization are also presented as evidence.
A short video introduction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk_85vNaSMA
The full 2-hour video presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6-6Naz-C0M
Evidence of transgenerational epigenetic effects due to recent environmental exposures to novel complex molecules also supports this hypothesis. Atavism may be advantageous when it's restricted to a small number of individuals, but deleterious when the mechanisms maintaining this subpopulation are altered in a way that isn't immediately apparent in the genome.
The puzzlingly heterogeneous (yet statistically undeniable) components of autism might thus be united through a better understanding of epigenetics.
Posted by RupertVanVanstershermermermer