Researchers have discovered that many cases of cerebral palsy, a major neurodevelopmental disorder, may have genetic causes.

It has long been the belief that cerebral palsy occurs when a child experiences a lack of oxygen during pregnancy or at birth.

However, the Australian Collaborative Cerebral Palsy Research Group, based at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, has found at least 14 per cent of cerebral palsy cases are likely caused by a genetic mutation.

The Head of the Cerebral Palsy Research Group, Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan, said prior to this research it was believed that as little as 1 per cent of cerebral palsy cases had a genetic cause.

"Cerebral palsy is a major neurodevelopmental disorder, which disrupts movement control, and it occurs in 1 in 400 children," MacLennan said.

"While we have long suspected that genes may play a role in the development of cerebral palsy, it wasn’t until our research group mapped the DNA from cerebral palsy families that we could show genetic mutations are the likely cause of the condition in at least 14 per cent of cases," MacLennan said.

Professor Jozef Gecz, University of Adelaide genetic scientist, said because cerebral palsy is at least partly genetic in origin there will be significant changes in the approach to diagnosis, management and treatment of the condition.

"Our research will lead to early diagnosis of some cerebral palsies and aid preventative genetic techniques in the future," said Gecz.

"It should also reduce inappropriate litigation against obstetric medics – who at times are blamed for causing the condition – which has led to defensive obstetrics and unnecessarily high caesarean delivery rates," he said.

The research is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.