Scientists unlock autism memory struggles
One in three people have inherited a genetic variation that impairs their ability to remember faces, according to a study that could explain why some individuals recall everyone they have ever met while others have difficulty recognising their own relatives.
The study was carried out on nearly 200 families with an autistic child as part of research into genetic influences on the childhood disorder, which is linked with an inability to recognise faces as part of normal development.
However, the scientists believe that the findings have a wider significance by explaining -- at least to some extent -- the wide variation in the ability of the general population to recognise faces, whether of total strangers they have seen just once, or of close friends and relatives.
The scientists studied the gene for the protein receptor responsible for triggering the reaction in the brain to oxytocin, the so-called "love hormone" that helps to form social bonds, especially between close friends and lovers, as well as between mothers and their new-born babies.
When they analysed the genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor gene in 198 families with an autistic child they found a small change in the gene's DNA sequence had a large and significant impact on the memory skills for faces within the families.
About a third of people inherit both copies of the deficient gene variant from each of their parents.
The scientists said that high prevalence of the gene variant could explain why a relatively large proportion of people have difficulty with remembering faces.
"Some people seem to remember the faces of almost everyone they have met, yet others struggle to recognise even close friends and family," said Professor David Scuse of University College London, the lead author of the study.
"We have found a possible explanation. A gene related to oxytocin, the 'love hormone', influences face memory and, surprisingly, about one in three people has a version of the gene that doesn't work so well," Professor Scuse said. (© Independent News Service)