Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) represent a group of childhood neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by deficits in verbal communication, impairment of social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of interests and behaviour. To identify common genetic risk factors underlying ASDs, here we present the results of genome-wide association studies on a cohort of 780 families (3,101 subjects) with affected children, and a second cohort of 1,204 affected subjects and 6,491 control subjects, all of whom were of European ancestry. Six single nucleotide polymorphisms between cadherin 10 (CDH10) and cadherin 9 (CDH9)—two genes encoding neuronal cell-adhesion molecules—revealed strong association signals, with the most significant SNP being rs4307059 (P = 3.4 × 10−8, odds ratio = 1.19). These signals were replicated in two independent cohorts, with combined P values ranging from 7.4 × 10−8 to 2.1 × 10−10. Our results implicate neuronal cell-adhesion molecules in the pathogenesis of ASDs, and represent, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of genome-wide significant association of common variants with susceptibility to ASDs.
It is increasingly recognised that traits associated with autism reflect a spectrum with no clear boundary between typical and atypical behaviour. Dimensional traits are needed to investigate the broader autism phenotype.
Methods and Principal Findings
Ninety-three individual measures reflecting components of social, communication and repetitive behaviours characterising autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) were identified between the ages of 6 months and 9 years from the ALSPAC database. Using missing value imputation, data for 13,138 children were analysed. Factor analysis suggested the existence of 7 factors explaining 85% of the variance. The factors were labelled: verbal ability, language acquisition, social understanding, semantic-pragmatic skills, repetitive-stereotyped behaviour, articulation and social inhibition. Four factors (1, 3, 5 and 7) were specific to ASD being more strongly associated with this phenotype than other co-morbid conditions while other factors were more associated with learning difficulties and specific language impairment. Nevertheless, all 7 factors contributed independently to the explanation of ASD (p<0.001). Exploration of putative genetic causal factors such as variants in the CNTNAP2 gene showed a varying pattern of associations with these traits. An alternative predictive model of ASD was derived using four individual measures: the coherence subscale of the Children's Communication Checklist (9y), the Social and Communication Disorders Checklist (91 m), repetitive behaviour (69 m) and the sociability subscale of the Emotionality Activity and Sociability measure (38 m). Although univarably these traits performed better than some factors, their combined explanations of ASD were similar (R2 = 0.48).
Conclusions and Significance
These results support the fractional nature of ASD with different aetiological origins for these components despite pleiotropic genetic effects being observed. These traits are likely to be useful in the exploration of ASD.
The presence of autism-related traits has been well documented in undiagnosed family members of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The most common finding is mild impairments in social and communication skills that are similar to those shown by individuals with autism, but exhibited to a lesser degree. Termed the broader autism phenotype (BAP), these traits suggest a genetic liability for autism-related traits in families. Genetic influence in autism is strong, with identical twins showing high concordance for the diagnosis and related traits and approximately 20% of all ASD cases having an identified genetic mechanism. This paper highlights the studies conducted to date regarding the BAP and considers the implications of these findings for the etiology and treatment of ASD.
We investigated the relationship of discrepancies between VIQ and NVIQ (IQ split) to autism symptoms and adaptive behavior in a sample of high-functioning (mean FSIQ = 98.5) school-age children with autism spectrum disorders divided into three groups: discrepantly high VIQ (n = 18); discrepantly high NVIQ (n = 24); and equivalent VIQ and NVIQ (n = 36). Discrepantly high VIQ and NVIQ were associated with autism social symptoms but not communication symptoms or repetitive behaviors. Higher VIQ and NVIQ were associated with better adaptive communication but not socialization or Daily Living Skills. IQ discrepancy may be an important phenotypic marker in autism. Although better verbal abilities are associated with better functional outcomes in autism, discrepantly high VIQ in high-functioning children may also be associated with social difficulties.
Autism; Cognitive profiles; IQ; Symptomatology; Adaptive functioning; Asperger syndrome
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are typically characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors. The heterogeneity in the severity of these characteristics across individuals with ASD has led some researchers to suggest that these disorders form a continuum which extends into the general, or “typical,” population, and there is growing evidence that the extent to which typical adults display autistic traits, as measured using the autism-spectrum quotient (AQ), predicts performance on behavioral tasks that are impaired in ASD. Here, we show that variation in autism spectrum traits is related to cortical structure and function within the typical population. Voxel-based morphometry showed that increased AQ scores were associated with decreased white matter volume in the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a region important in processing socially relevant stimuli and associated with structural and functional impairments in ASD. In addition, AQ was correlated with the extent of cortical deactivation of an adjacent area of pSTS during a Stroop task relative to rest, reflecting variation in resting state function. The results provide evidence that autism spectrum characteristics are reflected in neural structure and function across the typical (non-ASD) population.
autism; fMRI; resting state; voxel-based morphometry
The heterogeneity of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has presented a significant challenge to genetic analyses. Even when associations with genetic variants have been identified, it has been difficult to associate them with a specific trait or characteristic of autism. Here, we report that quantitative trait analyses of ASD symptoms combined with case-control association analyses using distinct ASD subphenotypes identified on the basis of symptomatic profiles result in the identification of highly significant associations with 18 novel single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The symptom categories included deficits in language usage, non-verbal communication, social development, and play skills, as well as insistence on sameness or ritualistic behaviors. Ten of the trait-associated SNPs, or quantitative trait loci (QTL), were associated with more than one subtype, providing partial replication of the identified QTL. Notably, none of the novel SNPs is located within an exonic region, suggesting that these hereditary components of ASDs are more likely related to gene regulatory processes (or gene expression) than to structural or functional changes in gene products. Seven of the QTL reside within intergenic chromosomal regions associated with rare copy number variants that have been previously reported in autistic samples. Pathway analyses of the genes associated with the QTL identified in this study implicate neurological functions and disorders associated with autism pathophysiology. This study underscores the advantage of incorporating both quantitative traits as well as subphenotypes into large-scale genome-wide analyses of complex disorders.
Difficulties in communication and reciprocal social behavior are core features of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and are often present, to varying degrees, in other family members. This prospective longitudinal infant sibling study examines whether social-communicative features of family members may inform which infants are at increased risk for ASD and other developmental concerns.
Two hundred and seventeen families participated in this study. Infant siblings were recruited from families with at least one older child diagnosed with an ASD (n = 135) or at least one typically developing older child (n = 82). Families completed the Social Responsiveness Scale to assess social and communication features of the broader autism phenotype (BAP), sometimes called quantitative autistic traits (QAT). Family affectedness was assessed in two ways: categorically, based on number of affected older siblings (i.e., typical, simplex, multiplex risk groups) and dimensionally, by assessing varying degrees of QAT in all family members. Infant siblings were assessed at 36 months of age and completed the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Mullen Scales of Early Learning.
In structural equation models, comparisons between multiplex, simplex and typical groups revealed the highest rates of QAT in the multiplex group followed by the simplex and typical groups. Infant sibling outcomes were predicted by gender, family risk group, proband QAT, and additional sibling QAT.
Replicating previous cross-sectional and family history findings, the present study found elevated social and communication features of the BAP in siblings and fathers of ASD families, but not in mothers. While social and communication features of the BAP in mothers, fathers, and undiagnosed siblings did not predict infant sibling outcomes, having more than one affected older sibling did. Infant siblings from multiplex families were at significantly higher risk for ASD than infant siblings from simplex families in this sample.
Autistic disorder; Pervasive developmental disorder; family factors; siblings; structural equation modeling
Independent studies have shown that candidate genes for dyslexia and specific language impairment (SLI) impact upon reading/language-specific traits in the general population. To further explore the effect of disorder-associated genes on cognitive functions, we investigated whether they play a role in broader cognitive traits. We tested a panel of dyslexia and SLI genetic risk factors for association with two measures of general cognitive abilities, or IQ, (verbal and non-verbal) in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort (N>5,000). Only the MRPL19/C2ORF3 locus showed statistically significant association (minimum P = 0.00009) which was further supported by independent replications following analysis in four other cohorts. In addition, a fifth independent sample showed association between the MRPL19/C2ORF3 locus and white matter structure in the posterior part of the corpus callosum and cingulum, connecting large parts of the cortex in the parietal, occipital and temporal lobes. These findings suggest that this locus, originally identified as being associated with dyslexia, is likely to harbour genetic variants associated with general cognitive abilities by influencing white matter structure in localised neuronal regions.
Autism, like intellectual disability, represents the severe end of a continuous distribution of developmental impairments that occur in nature, that are highly inherited, and that are orthogonally related to other parameters of development. A paradigm shift in understanding the core social abnormality of autism as a quantitative trait rather than as a categorically-defined condition has key implications for diagnostic classification, the measurement of change over time, the search for underlying genetic and neurobiologic mechanisms, and public health efforts to identify and support affected children. Here a recent body of research in genetics and epidemiology is presented to examine a dimensional reconceptualization of autistic social impairment—as manifested in clinical autistic syndromes, the broader autism phenotype, and normal variation in the general population. It illustrates how traditional categorical approaches to diagnosis may lead to misclassification of subjects (especially girls and mildly affected boys in multiple-incidence autism families), which can be particularly damaging to biological studies, and proposes continued efforts to derive a standardized quantitative system by which to characterize this family of conditions.
This is the first investigation of the relationship between parental age and extreme social-communicative autistic traits in the general population. The parents of 5,246 children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) completed the Social and Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC). The association between parental age and SCDC scores was assessed in the full sample and among high scoring individuals (e.g. top 5%, 1%). There was no association between parental age and social-communicative autistic traits in the general population. Neither maternal nor paternal age was associated with extreme scores. These findings suggest that advanced parental age does not confer increased risk for extreme social and communication impairment assessed quantitatively.
Autism spectrum disorders; Autistic traits; arental age; ALSPAC
There is accumulating evidence that autistic traits (AT) are on a continuum in the general population, with clinical autism representing the extreme end of a quantitative distribution. While the nature and severity of symptoms in clinical autism are known to persist over time, no study has examined the long-term stability of AT among typically developing toddlers. The current investigation measured AT in 360 males and 400 males from the general population close to two decades apart, using the Pervasive Developmental Disorder subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist in early childhood (M = 2.14 years; SD = 0.15), and the Autism-Spectrum Quotient in early adulthood (M = 19.50 years; SD = 0.70). Items from each scale were further divided into social (difficulties with social interaction and communication) and non-social (restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests) AT. The association between child and adult measurements of AT as well the influence of potentially confounding sociodemographic, antenatal and obstetric variables were assessed using Pearson's correlations and linear regression. For males, Total AT in early childhood were positively correlated with total AT (r = .16, p = .002) and social AT (r = .16, p = .002) in adulthood. There was also a positive correlation for males between social AT measured in early childhood and Total (r = .17, p = .001) and social AT (r = .16, p = .002) measured in adulthood. Correlations for non-social AT did not achieve significance in males. Furthermore, there was no significant longitudinal association in AT observed for males or females. Despite the constraints of using different measures and different raters at the two ages, this study found modest developmental stability of social AT from early childhood to adulthood in boys.
The Autism Spectrum Quotient is used to assess autistic spectrum traits in intellectually competent adults in both the general population and the autism spectrum community. While the autism spectrum Quotient has been validated in several different cultures, to date no study has assessed the psychometrics of the Autism Spectrum Quotient on an Australian population. The purpose of this study was to assess the psychometrics of the autism spectrum Quotient in an Australian sample of both typically developing individuals (n = 128) and individuals with autism spectrum disorder (n = 104). The results revealed that the internal consistency and the test-retest reliability were satisfactory; individuals with autism spectrum disorder scored higher on total Autism Spectrum Quotient score and its subscales than typically developing individuals; however, gender differences were not apparent on total score. Possible cultural differences may explain some of the psychometric variations found. The results of this analysis revealed that the Autism Spectrum Quotient was a reliable instrument for investigating variation in autistic symptomology in both typically developing and Autism Spectrum Disorders populations within an Australian population.
Autistic face processing difficulties are either uniquely social or due to a piecemeal cognitive “style.” Co-morbidity of social deficits and piecemeal cognition in autism makes teasing apart these accounts difficult. These traits vary normally, and are more separable in the general population, suggesting another way to compare accounts. Participants completed the Autism Quotient survey of autistic traits, and one of three face recognition tests: full-face, eyes-only, or mouth-only. Social traits predicted performance in the full-face condition in both sexes. Eyes-only males' performance was predicted by a social × cognitive trait interaction: attention to detail boosted face recognition in males with few social traits, but hindered performance in those reporting many social traits. This suggests social/non-social Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) trait interactions at the behavioral level. In the presence of few ASC-like difficulties in social reciprocity, an ASC-like attention to detail may confer advantages on typical males' face recognition skills. On the other hand, when attention to detail co-occurs with difficulties in social reciprocity, a detailed focus may exacerbate such already present social difficulties, as is thought to occur in autism.
autism; cognitive variation; sex differences; face recognition; face processing
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder whose diagnosis is based on three behavioral criteria: unusual reciprocal social interactions, deficits in communication, and stereotyped repetitive behaviors with restricted interests. A large number of de novo single gene mutations and chromosomal deletions are associated with autism spectrum disorders. Based on the strong genetic evidence, mice with targeted mutations in homologous genes have been generated as translational research tools. Mouse models of autism have revealed behavioral and biological outcomes of mutations in risk genes. The field is now poised to employ the most robust phenotypes in the most replicable mouse models for preclinical screening of novel therapeutics.
neurodevelopmental disorder; autism; genetics; mouse model; social behavior; therapeutics; olfactory; ultrasonic vocalization; repetitive behavior; self-grooming; anxiety; cognitive; Fragile X; tuberous sclerosis; mGluRS antagonist
It is unclear whether subclinical autistic traits at very young age are transient or stable, and have clinical relevance. This study investigated the relationship between early subclinical autistic traits and the occurrence of later developmental and behavioural problems as well as problems in cognitive and language functioning. Parents of infants aged 14–15 months from the general population completed the Early Screening of Autistic Traits Questionnaire (ESAT). Three groups of children with high, moderate, and low ESAT-scores (total n = 103) were selected. Follow-up assessments included the CBCL 1½–5 at age 3 years, and the SCQ, the ADI-R, the ADOS-G, a non-verbal intelligence test, and language tests for comprehension and production at age 4–5 years. None of the children met criteria for autism spectrum disorder at follow-up. Children with high ESAT-scores at 14–15 months showed significantly more internalizing and externalizing problems at age 3 years and scored significantly lower on language tests at age 4–5 years than children with moderate or low ESAT-scores. Further, significantly more children with high ESAT-scores (14/26, 53.8%) than with moderate and low ESAT-scores (5/36, 13.9% and 1/41, 2.4%, respectively) were in the high-risk/clinical range on one or more outcome domains (autistic symptoms, behavioural problems, cognitive and language abilities). Subclinical autistic traits at 14–15 months predict later behavioural problems and delays in cognitive and language functioning rather than later ASD-diagnoses. The theoretical implications of the findings lie in the pivotal role of early social and communication skills for the development of self-regulation of emotions and impulses. The practical implications bear on the early recognition of children at risk for behavioural problems and for language and cognitive problems.
Autistic traits; Behavioural problems; Cognitive abilities; Young children; General population
The ‘broader autism phenotype’ (BAP) refers to the mild expression of autistic-like traits in the relatives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Establishing the presence of ASD traits provides insight into which traits are heritable in ASD. Here, the ability to recognise facial identity was tested in 33 parents of ASD children.
Methodology and Results
In experiment 1, parents of ASD children completed the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), and a questionnaire assessing the presence of autistic personality traits. The parents, particularly the fathers, were impaired on the CFMT, but there were no associations between face recognition ability and autistic personality traits. In experiment 2, parents and probands completed equivalent versions of a simple test of face matching. On this task, the parents were not impaired relative to typically developing controls, however the proband group was impaired. Crucially, the mothers' face matching scores correlated with the probands', even when performance on an equivalent test of matching non-face stimuli was controlled for.
Conclusions and Significance
Components of face recognition ability are impaired in some relatives of ASD individuals. Results suggest that face recognition skills are heritable in ASD, and genetic and environmental factors accounting for the pattern of heritability are discussed. In general, results demonstrate the importance of assessing the skill level in the proband when investigating particular characteristics of the BAP.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviours. The severity of these characteristics is posited to lie on a continuum that extends into the general population. Brain substrates underlying ASD have been investigated through functional neuroimaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). However, fMRI has methodological constraints for studying brain mechanisms during social interactions (for example, noise, lying on a gantry during the procedure, etc.). In this study, we investigated whether variations in autism spectrum traits are associated with changes in patterns of brain activation in typically developed adults. We used near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a recently developed functional neuroimaging technique that uses near-infrared light, to monitor brain activation in a natural setting that is suitable for studying brain functions during social interactions.
We monitored regional cerebral blood volume changes using a 52-channel NIRS apparatus over the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and superior temporal sulcus (STS), 2 areas implicated in social cognition and the pathology of ASD, in 28 typically developed participants (14 male and 14 female) during face-to-face conversations. This task was designed to resemble a realistic social situation. We examined the correlations of these changes with autistic traits assessed using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ).
Both the PFC and STS were significantly activated during face-to-face conversations. AQ scores were negatively correlated with regional cerebral blood volume increases in the left STS during face-to-face conversations, especially in males.
Our results demonstrate successful monitoring of brain function during realistic social interactions by NIRS as well as lesser brain activation in the left STS during face-to-face conversations in typically developed participants with higher levels of autistic traits.
Causes of autism are unknown. Associations with maternal nutritional factors and their interactions with gene variants have not been reported.
Northern California families were enrolled from 2003–2009 in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) population-based case-control study. Children aged 24–60 months were evaluated and confirmed to have autism (n = 288), autism spectrum disorder (n = 141), or typical development (n = 278) at the University of California–Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute using standardized clinical assessments. We calculated adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for associations between autism and retrospectively collected maternal vitamin intake before and during pregnancy. We explored interaction effects with functional genetic variants involved in one-carbon metabolism (MTHFR, COMT, MTRR, BHMT, FOLR2, CBS, and TCN2) as carried by the mother or child.
Mothers of children with autism were less likely than those of typically developing children to report having taken prenatal vitamins during the three months before pregnancy or the first month of pregnancy (OR = 0.62 [95% confidence interval = 0.42–0.93]). Significant interaction effects were observed for maternal MTHFR 677 TT, CBS rs234715 GT+TT, and child COMT 472 AA genotypes, with greater risk for autism when mothers did not report taking prenatal vitamins periconceptionally (4.5 [1.4–14.6]; 2.6 [1.2–5.4]; and 7.2 [2.3–22.4], respectively). Greater risk was also observed for children whose mothers had other one-carbon metabolism pathway gene variants and reported no maternal prenatal vitamin intake.
Periconceptional use of prenatal vitamins may reduce the risk of having children with autism, especially for genetically susceptible mothers and children. Replication and mechanistic investigations are warranted.
Siblings of children with autism (sibs-A) are at increased genetic risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and milder impairments. To elucidate diversity and contour of early developmental trajectories exhibited by sibs-A, regardless of diagnostic classification, latent class modeling was used.
Sibs-A (n=204) were assessed with the Mullen Scales of Early Learning from age 6–36 months. Mullen T scores served as dependent variables. Outcome classifications at age 36 months included: ASD (n=52); non-ASD social/communication delay (broader autism phenotype; BAP) (n=31); and unaffected (n=121). Child-specific patterns of performance were studied using latent class growth analysis. Latent class membership was then related to diagnostic outcome through estimation of within-class proportions of children assigned to each diagnostic classification.
A 4-class model was favored. Class 1 represented accelerated development and consisted of 25.7% of the sample, primarily unaffected children. Class 2 (40.0% of the sample), was characterized by normative development with above-average nonverbal cognitive outcome. Class 3 (22.3% of the sample) was characterized by receptive language, and gross and fine motor delay. Class 4 (12.0% of the sample), was characterized by widespread delayed skill acquisition, reflected by declining trajectories. Children with an outcome diagnosis of ASD were spread across Classes 2, 3, and 4.
Results support a category of ASD that involves slowing in early non-social development. Receptive language and motor development is vulnerable to early delay in sibs-A with and without ASD outcomes. Non-ASD sibs-A are largely distributed across classes depicting average or accelerated development. Developmental trajectories of motor, language, and cognition appear independent of communication and social delays in non-ASD sibs-A.
autism; trajectories; broader autism phenotype
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders for children with epilepsy in the general population is unknown. In a prospective community-based study of newly diagnosed childhood epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder was determined from parental interviews, medical records and expert review by a child psychiatrist. Twenty-eight (5%) participants had autism spectrum disorders. West syndrome (prevalence ratio =4.53, p=0.002), and intellectual impairment (prevalence ratio=4.34, p=0.002), were independently associated with autism spectrum disorder. Absent West syndrome, male gender was associated with autism spectrum disorder (prevalence ratio=3.71, p=0.02). For participants with overall normal cognitive abilities, 2.2% had autism spectrum disorder which is substantially higher than estimates from the general population (0.5-0.9%). In addition to West syndrome, which has repeatedly been shown to have a special relationship with autism spectrum disorder, the most important determinants of autism spectrum disorder in the general population (intellectual impairment and male sex) are also important in young people with epilepsy.
Autistic Spectrum Disorders; Epilepsy; Epidemiology
There is overlap between an autistic and hyperactive-inattentive symptomatology when studied cross-sectionally. This study is the first to examine the longitudinal pattern of association between social-communication deficits and hyperactive-inattentive symptoms in the general population, from childhood through adolescence. We explored the interrelationship between trajectories of co-occurring symptoms, and sought evidence for shared prenatal/perinatal risk factors.
Study participants were 5,383 singletons of white ethnicity from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Multiple measurements of hyperactive-inattentive traits (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) and autistic social-communication impairment (Social Communication Disorder Checklist) were obtained between 4 and 17 years. Both traits and their trajectories were modeled in parallel using latent class growth analysis (LCGA). Trajectory membership was subsequently investigated with respect to prenatal/perinatal risk factors.
LCGA analysis revealed two distinct social-communication trajectories (persistently impaired versus low-risk) and four hyperactive-inattentive trait trajectories (persistently impaired, intermediate, childhood-limited and low-risk). Autistic symptoms were more stable than those of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) behaviors, which showed greater variability. Trajectories for both traits were strongly but not reciprocally interlinked, such that the majority of children with a persistent hyperactive-inattentive symptomatology also showed persistent social-communication deficits but not vice versa. Shared predictors, especially for trajectories of persistent impairment, were maternal smoking during the first trimester, which included familial effects, and a teenage pregnancy.
Our longitudinal study reveals that a complex relationship exists between social-communication and hyperactive-inattentive traits. Patterns of association change over time, with corresponding implications for removing exclusivity criteria for ASD and ADHD, as proposed for DSM-5.
social-communication trait; hyperactive-inattentive trait; maternal smoking; teenage pregnancy; ALSPAC
Research is increasingly linking autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disorders to synaptic abnormalities (“synaptopathies”). PSD-95 (postsynaptic density-95, DLG4) orchestrates protein-protein interactions at excitatory synapses and is a major functional bridge interconnecting a neurexin-neuroligin-SHANK pathway implicated in autism spectrum disorders.
The authors characterized behavioral, dendritic, and molecular phenotypic abnormalities relevant to autism spectrum disorders in mice with PSD-95 deletion (Dlg4−/−). The data from mice led to the identification of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in human DLG4 and the examination of associations between these variants and neural signatures of Williams’ syndrome in a normal population, using functional and structural neuroimaging.
Dlg4−/− showed increased repetitive behaviors, abnormal communication and social behaviors, impaired motor coordination, and increased stress reactivity and anxiety-related responses. Dlg4−/− had subtle dysmorphology of amygdala dendritic spines and altered forebrain expression of various synaptic genes, including Cyln2, which regulates cytoskeletal dynamics and is a candidate gene for Williams’ syndrome. A significant association was observed between variations in two human DLG4 SNPs and reduced intraparietal sulcus volume and abnormal cortico-amygdala coupling, both of which characterize Williams’ syndrome.
These findings demonstrate that Dlg4 gene disruption in mice produces a complex range of behavioral and molecular abnormalities relevant to autism spectrum disorders and Williams’ syndrome. The study provides an initial link between human DLG4 gene variation and key neural endophenotypes of Williams’ syndrome and perhaps cortico-amygdala regulation of emotional and social processes more generally.
To investigate the underlying phenotypic constructs in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to identify genetic loci that are linked to these empirically derived factors.
Exploratory factor analysis was applied to two datasets with 28 selected Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) algorithm items. The first dataset was from the Autism Genome Project (AGP) phase I (1,236 ASD subjects from 618 families); the second was from the AGP phase II (804 unrelated ASD subjects). Variables derived from the factor analysis were then used as quantitative traits in genome-wide variance components linkage analyses.
Six factors, joint attention, social interaction and communication, non-verbal communication, repetitive sensory-motor behaviour, peer interaction, and compulsion/restricted interests, were retained for both datasets. There was good agreement between the factor loading patterns from the two datasets. All factors showed familial aggregation. Suggestive evidence for linkage was obtained for the joint attention factor on 11q23. Genome-wide significant evidence for linkage was obtained for the repetitive sensory-motor behaviour factor on 19q13.3.
This study demonstrates that the underlying phenotypic constructs based on the ADI-R algorithm items are replicable in independent datasets; and the empirically derived factors are suitable and informative in genetic studies of ASD.
autism; ADI-R; factor analysis; linkage analysis; quantitative trait
Selective mutism (SM), considered an early-onset variant of social anxiety disorder (SAD), shares features of impaired social interaction and communication with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that suggest a possible shared pathophysiology. We examined the association of a susceptibility gene, contactin-associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP2), for ASDs and specific language impairment (SLI) with SM and social anxiety-related traits.
Sample 1 subjects were 99 nuclear families including 106 children with SM. Sample 2 subjects were young adults who completed measures of social interactional anxiety (SIAS; N = 1028) and childhood behavioral inhibition (RSRI; N = 920). Five SNPs in CNTNAP2 (including rs7794745 and rs2710102, previously associated with ASDs) were genotyped.
FBAT analyses revealed nominal significance (p = 0.018) for association of SM with rs2710102 which, with rs6944808, was part of a common haplotype associated with SM (permutation p = 0.022). Adjusting for sex and ancestral proportion, each copy of the rs2710102*a risk allele in the young adults was associated with increased odds of being >1SD above the mean on the SIAS (OR = 1.33, p = 0.015) and RSRI (OR = 1.40, p = 0.010).
Although association was found with rs2710102, the risk allele (“a”) for the traits studied here is the non-risk allele for ASD and SLI (“g”). These findings suggest a partially shared etiology between ASDs and SM, but raise additional questions about specific aspects of these syndromes (i.e., language impairment and/or social anxiety) potentially influenced by CNTNAP2 and mechanism(s) by which these influences may be conveyed.
genetics; anxiety disorders; speech; childhood; autism; autism spectrum; social anxiety; behavioral inhibition
Lay abstract: It has been proposed that autistic-like traits in the general population lie on a continuum, with clinical Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), representing the extreme end of this distribution. The current study undertook a genome-wide association (GWA) scan of 965 young Western Australian adults to identify novel risk variants associated with autistic-like traits. No associations reached genome-wide significance; however, a review of nominally associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) indicated two positional candidate loci that have been previously implicated in autistic-like trait etiology.
Scientific abstract: Research has proposed that autistic-like traits in the general population lie on a continuum, with clinical ASD representing the extreme end of this distribution. Inherent in this proposal is that biological mechanisms associated with clinical ASD may also underpin variation in autistic-like traits within the general population. A GWA study using 2,462,046 SNPs was undertaken for ASD in 965 individuals from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. No SNP associations reached genome-wide significance (p < 5.0 × 10−8). However, investigations into nominal observed SNP associations (p < 1.0 × 10−5) add support to two positional candidate genes previously implicated in ASD etiology, PRKCB1, and CBLN1. The rs198198 SNP (p = 9.587 × 10−6), is located within an intron of the protein kinase C, beta 1 (PRKCB1) gene on chromosome 16p11. The PRKCB1 gene has been previously reported in linkage and association studies for ASD, and its mRNA expression has been shown to be significantly down regulated in ASD cases compared with controls. The rs16946931 SNP (p = 1.78 × 10−6) is located in a region flanking the Cerebellin 1 (CBLN1) gene on chromosome 16q12.1. The CBLN1 gene is involved with synaptogenesis and is part of a gene family previously implicated in ASD. This GWA study is only the second to examine SNPs associated with autistic-like traits in the general population, and provides evidence to support roles for the PRKCB1 and CBLN1 genes in risk of clinical ASD.
autistic-like traits; genome-wide association; PRKCB1; autism spectrum disorder; autism spectrum quotient; CBLN1