A group of scientists including researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina, Harvard Medical School and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center conducted research that found that a gene known as MEF2C may play a major role in causing autism, according to UPI.

The research team performed experiments on mice to see if there was a connection between MEF2C and autism. MEF2C, which is involved with muscle development, has also been linked to schizophrenia and other brain disorders, according to Medical Xpress. To test their hypothesis, the scientists removed MEF2C from a group of mice and observed them. The mice who did not have MEF2C were not as social as other mice. They also exhibited more frequent repetitive behaviors and delayed language skills — traits that are common in people with autism.

"The link between MEF2C and neurodevelopmental disorders is not surprising — it is enriched in parts of the developing brain important for cognition, social behaviors, sensory processing, motor control and language," said Christopher Cowan, a researcher from Harvard who helped author the study, according to UPI.

UPI reported that Cowan said he is hopeful about his team’s findings because they could lead to viable autism treatments: "If we can identify the major players that cause brain development disorders, that creates therapeutic targets that pharmaceutical companies can use." Cowan also said he is also convinced that his team's findings show that an impaired synapse connection between brain cells causes autism.

The scientific team published its findings in the journal eLife Science.