Phenotypic and ancestry-related assortative mating in autism



Have you ever wondered if people tend to choose partners who share similar characteristics? This concept, known as assortative mating, has been explored across various aspects, from physical appearance to educational background. A recent study published in June 2024 by Molecular Autism sheds light on assortative mating in the context of autism, particularly focusing on phenotypic (observable traits) and ancestry-related patterns among parents of autistic children.

Unveiling Patterns: Phenotypic Assortative Mating in Autism


The study, led by researchers interested in the underlying factors contributing to autism, investigated whether parents of autistic children exhibit any patterns of assortative mating. They analyzed data from two large, well-established family-based autism collections: The Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) and the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC). These collections provide valuable resources for understanding the genetics and characteristics of families with autism.

The researchers’ analysis revealed an intriguing finding: a similar degree of phenotypic assortative mating regardless of whether the child had autism with or without intellectual disability (ID). In simpler terms, this suggests that parents of autistic children, on average, share some observable characteristics. Interestingly, the presence of ID in the child doesn’t significantly influence this trend. This finding suggests that there might be some common phenotypic traits that parents of autistic children share, regardless of the specific presentation of autism in their offspring.

Beyond Genes: Delving into the Role of Genetics


The study didn’t stop at phenotypic similarities. It also explored the role of genetics in partner selection. The researchers analyzed a specific autism polygenic score (PGS) – a score that estimates an individual’s genetic risk for autism based on a combination of many genetic variations. However, they did not find strong evidence for assortative mating based solely on this PGS score. This suggests that while genetics undoubtedly play a role in autism, partner selection in these families appears more influenced by broader phenotypic similarities rather than a specific autism-related genetic risk score.


Ancestry and Partner Choice: A Minor Influence


The researchers further explored the influence of ancestry on partner selection. They analyzed ancestry-related assortative mating and found it present to a minor degree. This indicates that parents might share some ancestral background, but this influence seems weaker compared to the observed phenotypic similarities. In other words, while there might be a slight tendency for parents to share some ancestry, it’s not the strongest factor driving partner choice in these families.

Implications for Autism Research: Moving Forward


This research offers valuable insights into the complexities of autism and partner selection. The finding of similar phenotypic assortative mating across families with and without ID in the child suggests that common genetic influences likely contribute to both presentations of autism. Additionally, the minimal role of the specific autism PGS score in partner selection highlights the importance of considering broader phenotypic traits in these families. Future studies could explore the specific phenotypic characteristics associated with assortative mating in autism and investigate potential environmental influences on partner choice.


It’s important to acknowledge some limitations of the study. The research only analyzed participants of European ancestry, limiting the generalizability of the findings to other populations. Further research is needed to understand assortative mating patterns in individuals from diverse ancestry backgrounds.

This research paves the way for a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to autism. By exploring the interplay between genetics, phenotypic traits, and ancestry in partner selection, researchers can gain valuable insights into the potential causes and presentations of autism. Future studies that incorporate more diverse populations and delve deeper into specific phenotypic characteristics will further refine our understanding of this complex neurodevelopmental disorder.



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