Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have implicated a range of genes from discrete biological pathways in the aetiology of autism. However, despite the strong influence of genetic factors, association studies have yet to identify statistically robust, replicated major effect genes or SNPs. We apply the principle of the SNP ratio test methodology described by O'Dushlaine et al to over 2100 families from the Autism Genome Project (AGP). Using a two-stage design we examine association enrichment in 5955 unique gene-ontology classifications across four groupings based on two phenotypic and two ancestral classifications. Based on estimates from simulation we identify excess of association enrichment across all analyses. We observe enrichment in association for sets of genes involved in diverse biological processes, including pyruvate metabolism, transcription factor activation, cell-signalling and cell-cycle regulation. Both genes and processes that show enrichment have previously been examined in autistic disorders and offer biologically plausibility to these findings.
autism; genome-wide association analysis; pathway analysis; family-based association test; gene ontology
The Alzheimer amyloid protein precursor (APP) is subject to proteolysis by ADAM10 and ADAM17, precluding the formation of Aβ. Recently, coding variations in ADAM10 resulting in altered function have been reported in familial Alzheimer disease (AD). We carried out a large-scale (n=576: Controls, 271; AD, 305) resequencing study of ADAM10 in sporadic AD. Our results do not support a significant role for ADAM10 mutations in AD. Our results also make it clear that the careful examination of ancestry required in any case-control comparison is especially true with rare variations, where even a very small number of variations might form the basis of scientific conclusions.
Mutation; rare variation; genetics; association
SLC25A12, a susceptibility gene for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that is mutated in a neurodevelopmental syndrome, encodes a mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carrier (AGC1). AGC1 is an important component of the malate/aspartate shuttle, a crucial system supporting oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production.
We characterized mice with a disruption of the Slc25a12 gene, followed by confirmatory in vitro studies.
Slc25a12-knockout mice, which showed no AGC1 by immunoblotting, were born normally but displayed delayed development and died around 3 weeks after birth. In P13-14 knockout brains, the brains were smaller with no obvious alteration in gross structure. However, we found a reduction in myelin basic protein (MBP)-positive fibers, consistent with a previous report. Furthermore, the neocortex of knockout mice contained abnormal neurofilamentous accumulations in neurons, suggesting defective axonal transport and/or neurodegeneration. Slice cultures prepared from knockout mice also showed a myelination defect, and reduction of Slc25a12 in rat primary oligodendrocytes led to a cellautonomous reduction in MBP expression. Myelin deficits in slice cultures from knockout mice could be reversed by administration of pyruvate, indicating that reduction in AGC1 activity leads to reduced production of aspartate/N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and/or alterations in the NADH/NAD+ ratio, resulting in myelin defects.
Our data implicate AGC1 activity in myelination and in neuronal structure, and indicate that while loss of AGC1 leads to hypomyelination and neuronal changes, subtle alterations in AGC1 expression could affect brain development contributing to increased autism susceptibility.
Malate/aspartate shuttle; mitochondria; N-acetyl aspartate (NAA); neuron-oligodendrocyte interactions; pyruvate
Haploinsufficiency of SHANK3, caused by chromosomal abnormalities or mutations that disrupt one copy of the gene, leads to a neurodevelopmental syndrome called Phelan-McDermid syndrome, symptoms of which can include absent or delayed speech, intellectual disability, neurological changes and autism spectrum disorders. The SHANK3 protein forms a key structural part of the post-synaptic density. We previously generated and characterized mice with a targeted disruption of Shank3 in which exons coding for the ankyrin-repeat domain were deleted and expression of full-length Shank3 was disrupted. We documented specific deficits in synaptic function and plasticity, along with reduced reciprocal social interactions, in Shank3 heterozygous mice. Changes in phenotype owing to a mutation at a single locus are quite frequently modulated by other loci, most dramatically when the entire genetic background is changed. In mice, each strain of laboratory mouse represents a distinct genetic background and alterations in phenotype owing to gene knockout or transgenesis are frequently different across strains, which can lead to the identification of important modifier loci. We have investigated the effect of genetic background on phenotypes of Shank3 heterozygous, knockout and wild-type mice, using C57BL/6, 129SVE and FVB/Ntac strain backgrounds. We focused on observable behaviors with the goal of carrying out subsequent analyses to identify modifier loci. Surprisingly, there were very modest strain effects over a large battery of analyses. These results indicate that behavioral phenotypes associated with Shank3 haploinsufficiency are largely strain-independent.
Shank3; Phelan-McDermid syndrome; Autism spectrum disorders; 22q13; Mouse strain; Genetic modifier; Behavior
Response to endotoxins is an important part of the organismal reaction to Gram-negative bacteria and plays a critical role in sepsis and septic shock, as well as other conditions such as metabolic endotoxemia. Humans are generally more sensitive to endotoxins when compared with experimental animals such as mice. Inflammatory caspases mediate endotoxin-induced IL-1β secretion and lethality in mice, and caspase-4 is an inflammatory caspase that is found in the human, and not mouse, genome. To test whether caspase-4 is involved in endotoxin sensitivity, we developed a transgenic mouse expressing human caspase-4 in its genomic context. Caspase-4 transgenic mice exhibited significantly higher endotoxin sensitivity, as measured by enhanced cytokine secretion and lethality following LPS challenge. Using bone marrow–derived macrophages, we then observed that caspase-4 can support activation of caspase-1 and secretion of IL-1β and IL-18 in response to priming signals (LPS or Pam3CSK4) alone, without the need for second signals to stimulate the assembly of the inflammasome. These findings indicate that the regulation of caspase-1 activity by human caspase-4 could represent a unique mechanism in humans, as compared with laboratory rodents, and may partially explain the higher sensitivity to endotoxins observed in humans. Regulation of the expression, activation, or activity of caspase-4 therefore represents targets for systemic inflammatory response syndrome, sepsis, septic shock, and related disorders.
While most neuropathologic studies focus on regions involved in behavioral abnormalities in autism, it is also important to identify whether areas that appear functionally normal are devoid of pathologic alterations. In this study we analyzed the posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus, an extrastriate area not considered to be affected in autism. This area borders the fusiform gyrus, which is known to exhibit functional and cellular abnormalities in autism.
No studies have implicated posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus dysfunction in autism, leading us to hypothesize that neuropathology would not occur in this area. We indeed observed no significant differences in pyramidal neuron number or size in layers III, V, and VI in seven pairs of autism and controls.
These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that neuropathology is unique to areas involved in stereotypies and social and emotional behaviors, and support the specificity of the localization of pathology in the fusiform gyrus.
Autism; Fusiform gyrus; Neuropathology; Posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus; Stereology
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of related neurodevelopmental disorders with significant combined prevalence (~1%) and high heritability. Dozens of individually rare genes and loci associated with high-risk for ASD have been identified, which overlap extensively with genes for intellectual disability (ID). However, studies indicate that there may be hundreds of genes that remain to be identified. The advent of inexpensive massively parallel nucleotide sequencing can reveal the genetic underpinnings of heritable complex diseases, including ASD and ID. However, whole exome sequencing (WES) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) provides an embarrassment of riches, where many candidate variants emerge. It has been argued that genetic variation for ASD and ID will cluster in genes involved in distinct pathways and protein complexes. For this reason, computational methods that prioritize candidate genes based on additional functional information such as protein-protein interactions or association with specific canonical or empirical pathways, or other attributes, can be useful. In this study we applied several supervised learning approaches to prioritize ASD or ID disease gene candidates based on curated lists of known ASD and ID disease genes. We implemented two network-based classifiers and one attribute-based classifier to show that we can rank and classify known, and predict new, genes for these neurodevelopmental disorders. We also show that ID and ASD share common pathways that perturb an overlapping synaptic regulatory subnetwork. We also show that features relating to neuronal phenotypes in mouse knockouts can help in classifying neurodevelopmental genes. Our methods can be applied broadly to other diseases helping in prioritizing newly identified genetic variation that emerge from disease gene discovery based on WES and WGS.
High-throughput sequencing; massively parallel sequencing; gene discovery; networks; pathways; neurodevelopmental disorders; classifiers; support vector machine
Multiple lines of evidence in schizophrenia, from brain imaging, studies in postmortem brains, and genetic association studies, have implicated oligodendrocyte and myelin dysfunction in this disease. Recent studies suggest that oligodendrocyte and myelin dysfunction leads to changes in synaptic formation and function, which could lead to cognitive dysfunction, a core symptom of schizophrenia. Furthermore, there is accumulating data linking oligodendrocyte and myelin dysfunction with dopamine and glutamate abnormalities, both of which are found in schizophrenia. These findings implicate oligodendrocyte and myelin dysfunction as a primary change in schizophrenia, not only as secondary consequences of the illness or treatment. Strategies targeting oligodendrocyte and myelin abnormalities could therefore provide therapeutic opportunities for patients suffering from schizophrenia.
myelin; gene expression; genetic association; brain imaging; oligodendrocyte; synaptic plasticity; dopamine; glutamate
Lampreys are representatives of an ancient vertebrate lineage that diverged from our own ~500 million years ago. By virtue of this deeply shared ancestry, the sea lamprey (P. marinus) genome is uniquely poised to provide insight into the ancestry of vertebrate genomes and the underlying principles of vertebrate biology. Here, we present the first lamprey whole-genome sequence and assembly. We note challenges faced owing to its high content of repetitive elements and GC bases, as well as the absence of broad-scale sequence information from closely related species. Analyses of the assembly indicate that two whole-genome duplications likely occurred before the divergence of ancestral lamprey and gnathostome lineages. Moreover, the results help define key evolutionary events within vertebrate lineages, including the origin of myelin-associated proteins and the development of appendages. The lamprey genome provides an important resource for reconstructing vertebrate origins and the evolutionary events that have shaped the genomes of extant organisms.
Epigenetic alterations offer promise as diagnostic or prognostic markers, but it is not known whether these measures associate with, or predict, clinical state. These questions were addressed in a pilot study with combat veterans with PTSD to determine whether cytosine methylation in promoter regions of the glucocorticoid related NR3C1 and FKBP51 genes would predict or associate with treatment outcome. Veterans with PTSD received prolonged exposure (PE) psychotherapy, yielding responders (n = 8), defined by no longer meeting diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and non-responders (n = 8). Blood samples were obtained at pre-treatment, after 12 weeks of psychotherapy (post-treatment), and after a 3-month follow-up. Methylation was examined in DNA extracted from lymphocytes. Measures reflecting glucocorticoid receptor (GR) activity were also obtained (i.e., plasma and 24 h-urinary cortisol, plasma ACTH, lymphocyte lysozyme IC50-DEX, and plasma neuropeptide-Y). Methylation of the GR gene (NR3C1) exon 1F promoter assessed at pre-treatment predicted treatment outcome, but was not significantly altered in responders or non-responders at post-treatment or follow-up. In contrast, methylation of the FKBP5 gene (FKBP51) exon 1 promoter region did not predict treatment response, but decreased in association with recovery. In a subset, a corresponding group difference in FKBP5 gene expression was observed, with responders showing higher gene expression at post-treatment than non-responders. Endocrine markers were also associated with the epigenetic markers. These preliminary observations require replication and validation. However, the results support research indicating that some glucocorticoid related genes are subject to environmental regulation throughout life. Moreover, psychotherapy constitutes a form of “environmental regulation” that may alter epigenetic state. Finally, the results further suggest that different genes may be associated with prognosis and symptom state, respectively.
PTSD; veterans; epigenetics; methylation; promoter; glucocorticoid receptor; FK506 binding protein 5; psychotherapy
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are etiologically heterogeneous, with hundreds of rare, highly penetrant mutations and genomic imbalances involved, each contributing to a very small fraction of cases. In this issue of Molecular Autism, Soorya and colleagues evaluated 32 patients with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, caused by either deletion of 22q13.33 or SHANK3 mutations, using gold-standard diagnostic assessments and showed that 84% met criteria for ASD, including 75% meeting criteria for autism. This study and prior studies demonstrate that this syndrome appears to be one of the more penetrant causes of ASD. In this companion review, we show that in samples ascertained for ASD, SHANK3 haploinsufficiency is one of the more prevalent monogenic causes of ASD, explaining at least 0.5% of cases. We note that SHANK3 haploinsufficiency remains underdiagnosed in ASD and developmental delay, although with the increasingly widespread use of chromosomal microarray analysis and targeted sequencing of SHANK3, the number of cases is bound to rise.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are highly heritable and characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours. Considering four sets of de novo copy number variants (CNVs) identified in 181 individuals with autism and exploiting mouse functional genomics and known protein-protein interactions, we identified a large and significantly interconnected interaction network. This network contains 187 genes affected by CNVs drawn from 45% of the patients we considered and 22 genes previously implicated in ASD, of which 192 form a single interconnected cluster. On average, those patients with copy number changed genes from this network possess changes in 3 network genes, suggesting that epistasis mediated through the network is extensive. Correspondingly, genes that are highly connected within the network, and thus whose copy number change is predicted by the network to be more phenotypically consequential, are significantly enriched among patients that possess only a single ASD-associated network copy number changed gene (p = 0.002). Strikingly, deleted or disrupted genes from the network are significantly enriched in GO-annotated positive regulators (2.3-fold enrichment, corrected p = 2×10−5), whereas duplicated genes are significantly enriched in GO-annotated negative regulators (2.2-fold enrichment, corrected p = 0.005). The direction of copy change is highly informative in the context of the network, providing the means through which perturbations arising from distinct deletions or duplications can yield a common outcome. These findings reveal an extensive ASD-associated molecular network, whose topology indicates ASD-relevant mutational deleteriousness and that mechanistically details how convergent aetiologies can result extensively from CNVs affecting pathways causally implicated in ASD.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours. ASD are highly heritable and many different stretches of DNA have been found to be duplicated or deleted in individuals with ASD. We found that an unusually high number of genes affected by these DNA deletions/duplications are associated with the functioning of synaptic transmission between nerve cells. The proteins made by many of these genes are known to interact with each other and, together with proteins from other deleted/duplicated genes, form a large interlinked biological network. This network was affected by almost 50% of the deletions/duplications in the ASD patients considered. Many individual ASD patients had deletions or duplications of multiple genes within this network, but for those patients with just a single gene from the network changed, that single gene appeared to play an important role. Furthermore, the network predicts that the effects arising from the genes in the deletions are similar to the effects arising from the genes in the duplications. Thus, the way that this ASD-associated network is wired together contributes to the understanding of the impact of these DNA deletions and duplications.
We are fortunate to have invited commentaries from the laboratories of Dr Cathy Lord and Dr Fred Volkmar offering their perspectives on the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5 criteria for the autism spectrum. Both commentaries note how DSM-5 collapses the earlier diagnostic categories of the pervasive developmental disorders into a single category of autism spectrum disorder. In addition, DSM-5 collapses social and communication domains into a single combined domain. The commentaries go on to discuss the positive aspects of these changes and raise some areas of potential concern. We support the evidence-based changes to autism diagnosis found in DSM-5, and look forward to further studies on the autism phenotype as this has implications for diagnosis and treatment. As our mechanistic understanding of autism improves, diagnoses based on behavioral parameters will continue to provide opportunities for interventions targeting the behaviors, while etiological diagnoses will provide opportunities for interventions tailored to etiology.
Haploinsufficiency of SHANK3, due to either hemizygous gene deletion (termed 22q13 deletion syndrome or Phelan-McDermid syndrome) or to gene mutation, accounts for about 0.5% of the cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or developmental delay, and there is evidence for a wider role for SHANK3 and glutamate signaling abnormalities in ASD and related conditions. Therapeutic approaches that reverse deficits in SHANK3-haploinsufficiency may therefore be broadly beneficial in ASD and in developmental delay.
We observed that daily intraperitoneal injections of human insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) over a 2-week period reversed deficits in hippocampal α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) signaling, long-term potentiation (LTP), and motor performance that we had previously reported in Shank3-deficient mice. Positive effects were observed with an IGF-1 peptide derivative as well.
We observed significant beneficial effects of IGF-1 in a mouse model of ASD and of developmental delay. Studies in mouse and human neuronal models of Rett syndrome also show benefits with IGF-1, raising the possibility that this compound may have benefits broadly in ASD and related conditions, even with differing molecular etiology. Given the extensive safety data for IGF-1 in children with short stature due to primary IGF-1 deficiency, IGF-1 is an attractive candidate for controlled clinical trials in SHANK3-deficiency and in ASD.
Pharmacotherapy; Personalized medicine; Individualized medicine; 22q13 deletion syndrome; Phelan-McDermid syndrome
Several studies suggest a role for the amyloid precursor protein (APP) in neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis, but the downstream interactions that mediate the function of APP during neuron development are unknown. By introducing interaction-deficient FE65 into cultured hippocampal neurons using adenovirus, we show that a complex including APP, FE65 and an additional protein is involved in neurite outgrowth at early stages of neuronal development. Both FE65 that is unable to interact with APP (PID2 mutants) or a WW mutant increased axon branching. Although the FE65 mutants did not affect total neurite output, both mutants decreased axon segment length, consistent with an overall slowing of axonal growth cones. FE65 mutants did not alter the localization of either APP or FE65 in axonal growth cones, suggesting that the effects on neurite outgrowth are achieved by alterations in local complex formation within the axonal growth cone.
Alzheimer’s disease; APP; FE65; Mena; Neurite outgrowth; Branching
Summary: AnnTools is a versatile bioinformatics application designed for comprehensive annotation of a full spectrum of human genome variation: novel and known single-nucleotide substitutions (SNP/SNV), short insertions/deletions (INDEL) and structural variants/copy number variation (SV/CNV). The variants are interpreted by interrogating data compiled from 15 constantly updated sources. In addition to detailed functional characterization of the coding variants, AnnTools searches for overlaps with regulatory elements, disease/trait associated loci, known segmental duplications and artifact prone regions, thereby offering an integrated and comprehensive analysis of genomic data. The tool conveniently accepts user-provided tracks for custom annotation and offers flexibility in input data formats. The output is generated in the universal Variant Call Format. High annotation speed makes AnnTools suitable for high-throughput sequencing facilities, while a low-memory footprint and modest CPU requirements allow it to operate on a personal computer. The application is freely available for public use; the package includes installation scripts and a set of helper tools.
Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Mutations in the synaptic scaffolding protein gene SHANK3 are strongly implicated in autism and Phelan-McDermid 22q13 deletion syndrome. The precise location of the mutation within the Shank3 gene is key to its phenotypic outcomes. Here we report the physiological and behavioral consequences of null and heterozygous mutations in the ankyrin repeat domain in Shank3 mice. Both homozygous and heterozygous mice showed reduced glutamatergic transmission and long-term potentiation in the hippocampus with more severe deficits detected in the homozygous mice. Three independent cohorts were evaluated for magnitude and replicability of behavioral endophenotypes relevant to autism and Phelan-McDermid syndrome. Mild social impairments were detected, primarily in juveniles during reciprocal interactions, while all genotypes displayed normal adult sociability on the three-chambered task. Impaired novel object recognition and rotarod performance were consistent across cohorts of null mutants. Repetitive self-grooming, reduced ultrasonic vocalizations, and deficits in reversal of water maze learning were detected only in some cohorts, emphasizing the importance of replication analyses. These results demonstrate the exquisite specificity of deletions in discrete domains within the Shank3 gene in determining severity of symptoms.
SH3 and multiple ankyrin repeat domains 3; SHANK3; PROSAP2; Phelan-McDermid Syndrome; autism; mouse models; three-chambered social approach task; ultrasonic; vocalizations
Solid evidence links schizophrenia (SZ) susceptibility to neurodevelopmental processes involving tyrosine phosphorylation-mediated signaling. Mouse studies implicate the Ptpra gene, encoding protein tyrosine phosphatase RPTPα, in the control of radial neuronal migration, cortical cytoarchitecture, and oligodendrocyte differentiation. The human gene encoding RPTPα, PTPRA, maps to a chromosomal region (20p13) associated with susceptibility to psychotic illness.
We characterized neurobehavioral parameters, as well as gene expression in the central nervous system, of mice with a null mutation in the Ptpra gene. We searched for genetic association between polymorphisms in PTPRA and schizophrenia risk (2 independent cohorts; total of 1420 cases and 1377 controls), and we monitored PTPRA expression in prefrontal dorsolateral cortex of SZ patients (35 cases, 2 control groups of 35 cases)
We find that Ptpra−/− mice reproduce neurobehavioral endophenotypes of human SZ: sensitization to metamphetamine-induced hyperactivity, defective sensorimotor gating, and defective habituation to a startle response. Ptpra loss of function also leads to reduced expression of multiple myelination genes, mimicking the hypomyelination-associated changes in gene expression observed in post mortem patient brains. We further report that a polymorphism at the PTPRA locus is genetically associated with SZ, and that PTPRA mRNA levels are reduced in post mortem dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of subjects with SZ.
The implication of this well-studied signaling protein in SZ risk and endophenotype manifestation provides novel entry points into the etiopathology of this disease.
schizophrenia; tyrosine phosphatase; myelination; mouse model; RPTPα; PTPRA
Eleven susceptibility loci for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) were identified by previous studies; however, a large portion of the genetic risk for this disease remains unexplained. We conducted a large, two-stage meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in individuals of European ancestry. In stage 1, we used genotyped and imputed data (7,055,881 SNPs) to perform meta-analysis on 4 previously published GWAS data sets consisting of 17,008 Alzheimer’s disease cases and 37,154 controls. In stage 2,11,632 SNPs were genotyped and tested for association in an independent set of 8,572 Alzheimer’s disease cases and 11,312 controls. In addition to the APOE locus (encoding apolipoprotein E), 19 loci reached genome-wide significance (P < 5 × 10−8) in the combined stage 1 and stage 2 analysis, of which 11 are newly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
DNA mutational events are increasingly being identified in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the potential additional role of dysregulation of the epigenome in the pathogenesis of the condition remains unclear. The epigenome is of interest as a possible mediator of environmental effects during development, encoding a cellular memory reflected by altered function of progeny cells. Advanced maternal age (AMA) is associated with an increased risk of having a child with ASD for reasons that are not understood. To explore whether AMA involves covert aneuploidy or epigenetic dysregulation leading to ASD in the offspring, we tested a homogeneous ectodermal cell type from 47 individuals with ASD compared with 48 typically developing (TD) controls born to mothers of ≥35 years, using a quantitative genome-wide DNA methylation assay. We show that DNA methylation patterns are dysregulated in ectodermal cells in these individuals, having accounted for confounding effects due to subject age, sex and ancestral haplotype. We did not find mosaic aneuploidy or copy number variability to occur at differentially-methylated regions in these subjects. Of note, the loci with distinctive DNA methylation were found at genes expressed in the brain and encoding protein products significantly enriched for interactions with those produced by known ASD-causing genes, representing a perturbation by epigenomic dysregulation of the same networks compromised by DNA mutational mechanisms. The results indicate the presence of a mosaic subpopulation of epigenetically-dysregulated, ectodermally-derived cells in subjects with ASD. The epigenetic dysregulation observed in these ASD subjects born to older mothers may be associated with aging parental gametes, environmental influences during embryogenesis or could be the consequence of mutations of the chromatin regulatory genes increasingly implicated in ASD. The results indicate that epigenetic dysregulatory mechanisms may complement and interact with DNA mutations in the pathogenesis of the disorder.
Older mothers have a higher than expected risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The reason for this increased risk is unknown. The eggs of older mothers are more prone to abnormalities of chromosome numbers, suggesting this as one possible mechanism of the increased ASD risk. Age is also associated with a loss of control of epigenetic regulatory patterns that govern gene expression, indicating a second potential mechanism. To test both possibilities, we sampled cells from the same developmental origin as the brain, and performed genome-wide tests looking for unusual chromosome numbers and DNA methylation patterns. The studies were performed on individuals with ASD and typically developing controls, all born to mothers at least 35 years of age at the time of birth. We found the cells from individuals with ASD to have changes in DNA methylation at a number of loci, especially near genes encoding proteins known to interact with those already implicated in ASD. We conclude that epigenetic dysregulation occurring in gametes or early embryonic life may be one of the contributors to the development of ASD.
Mutations in the PTEN gene are associated with a broad spectrum of disorders, including Cowden syndrome (CS), Bannayan–Riley–Ruvalcaba syndrome, Proteus syndrome, and Lhermitte–Duclos disease. In addition, PTENmutations have been described in a few patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and macrocephaly. In this study, we screened the PTEN gene for mutations and deletions in 88 patients with ASDs and macrocephaly (defined as ≥2 SD above the mean). Mutation analysis was performed by direct sequencing of all exons and flanking regions, as well as the promoter region. Dosage analysis of PTEN was carried out using multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA). No partial or whole gene deletions were observed. We identified a de novo missense mutation (D326N) in a highly conserved amino acid in a 5-year-old boy with autism, mental retardation, language delay, extreme macrocephaly (+9.6 SD) and polydactyly of both feet. Polydactyly has previously been described in two patients with Lhermitte–Duclos disease and CS and is thus likely to be a rare sign of PTEN mutations. Our findings suggest that PTEN mutations are a relatively infrequent cause of ASDs with macrocephaly. Screening of PTEN mutations is warranted in patients with autism and pronounced macrocephaly, even in the absence of other features of PTEN-related tumor syndromes.
Cowden syndrome; Bannayan–Riley–Ruvalcaba syndrome; polydactyly; sequence analysis; multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification
Attentional dysfunction is one of the most consistent findings in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the significance of such findings for the pathophysiology of autism is unclear. In this study, we investigated cellular neurochemistry with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging (1H-MRS) in brain regions associated with networks subserving alerting, orienting, and executive control of attention in patients with ASD. Concentrations of cerebral N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), creatinine + phosphocreatinine, choline-containing compounds, myo-inositol (Ins) and glutamate + glutamine (Glx) were determined by 3 T 1H-MRS examinations in 14 high-functioning medication-free adults with a diagnosis of ASD and 14 age- and IQ-matched healthy controls (HC) in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), thalamus, temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and areas near or along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). Compared to HC group, the ASD group showed significantly lower Glx concentrations in right ACC and reduced Ins in left TPJ. This study provides evidence of abnormalities in neurotransmission related to networks subserving executive control and alerting of attention, functions which have been previously implicated in ASD pathogenesis.
autism; spectroscopy; glutamate; anterior cingulate cortex; intraparietal sulcus; myo-inositol
The ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E (APOE) is currently the major genetic risk factor identified for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Previous in vivo data from our laboratory has demonstrated that amyloid-β (Aβ) is rapidly removed from the plasma by the liver and kidney and that the rate of its clearance is affected by ApoE in C57BL/6J and APOE−/− mice. To expand upon these findings, we assessed the peripheral clearance of human synthetic Aβ42 in APOE ε2, ε3, and ε4 knock-in and APOE knock-out mice injected with lipidated recombinant apoE2, E3, and E4 protein. Our results show that APOE does influence the rate at which the mice are able to clear Aβ42 from their bloodstream. Both APOE ε4 mice and APOE knock-out mice treated with lipidated recombinant apoE4 demonstrated increased retention of plasma Aβ42 over time compared to APOE ε2/APOE knock-out rE2 and APOE ε3/APOE knock-out rE3 mice. These findings suggest that the peripheral clearance of Aβ42 is significantly altered by APOE genotype. Given that APOE ε4 is a risk factor for AD, then these novel findings provide some insight into the role of ApoE isoforms on the peripheral clearance of Aβ which may impact on clearance from the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease; amyloid-β; APOE genotype; peripheral sink hypothesis
There is interest in defining mouse neurobiological phenotypes useful for studying autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in both forward and reverse genetic approaches. A recurrent focus has been on high-order behavioral analyses, including learning and memory paradigms and social paradigms. However, well-studied mouse models, including for example Fmr1 knockout mice, do not show dramatic deficits in such high-order phenotypes, raising a question as to what constitutes useful phenotypes in ASD models.
To address this, we made use of a list of 112 disease genes etiologically involved in ASD to survey, on a large scale and with unbiased methods as well as expert review, phenotypes associated with a targeted disruption of these genes in mice, using the Mammalian Phenotype Ontology database. In addition, we compared the results with similar analyses for human phenotypes.
We observed four classes of neurobiological phenotypes associated with disruption of a large proportion of ASD genes, including: (1) Changes in brain and neuronal morphology; (2) electrophysiological changes; (3) neurological changes; and (4) higher-order behavioral changes. Alterations in brain and neuronal morphology represent quantitative measures that can be more widely adopted in models of ASD to understand cellular and network changes. Interestingly, the electrophysiological changes differed across different genes, indicating that excitation/inhibition imbalance hypotheses for ASD would either have to be so non-specific as to be not falsifiable, or, if specific, would not be supported by the data. Finally, it was significant that in analyses of both mouse and human databases, many of the behavioral alterations were neurological changes, encompassing sensory alterations, motor abnormalities, and seizures, as opposed to higher-order behavioral changes in learning and memory and social behavior paradigms.
The results indicated that mutations in ASD genes result in defined groups of changes in mouse models and support a broad neurobiological approach to phenotyping rodent models for ASD, with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology, brain and neuronal morphology, and electrophysiology, as well as both neurological and additional behavioral analyses. Analysis of human phenotypes associated with these genes reinforced these conclusions, supporting face validity for these approaches to phenotyping of ASD models. Such phenotyping is consistent with the successes in Fmr1 knockout mice, in which morphological changes recapitulated human findings and electrophysiological deficits resulted in molecular insights that have since led to clinical trials. We propose both broad domains and, based on expert review of more than 50 publications in each of the four neurobiological domains, specific tests to be applied to rodent models of ASD.
Systems biology; mouse behavior; autism; autism spectrum disorders; genetically modified mice; forward genetics; reverse genetics