Abnormalities in structural and functional connectivity have been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) across a wide age range. However, developmental changes in white matter microstructure are poorly understood. We used a cross-sectional design to determine whether white matter abnormalities measured using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were present in adolescents and adults with ASD and whether age-related changes in white matter microstructure differed between ASD and typically developing (TD) individuals. Participants included 28 individuals with ASD and 33 TD controls matched on age and IQ and assessed at one time point. Widespread decreased fractional anisotropy (FA), and increased radial diffusivity (RaD) and mean diffusivity (MD) were observed in the ASD group compared to the TD group. In addition, significant group-by-age interactions were also observed in FA, RaD, and MD in all major tracts except the brain stem, indicating that age-related changes in white matter microstructure differed between the groups. We propose that white matter microstructural changes in ASD may reflect myelination and/or other structural differences including differences in axonal density/arborization. In addition, we suggest that white matter microstuctural impairments may be normalizing during young adulthood in ASD. Future longitudinal studies that include a wider range of ages and more extensive clinical characterization will be critical for further uncovering the neurodevelopmental processes unfolding during this dynamic time in development.
autism; white matter; DTI; age; interaction
This study was carried out to examine the efficacy of a 12-week, low intensity (one-hour-per-week of therapist contact), parent-delivered intervention for toddlers at risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ages 14–24 months and their families.
A randomized controlled trial involving 98 children and families was carried out in three different sites investigating the efficacy of a parent delivery of the Early Start Denver Model (P-ESDM) (which fosters parental use of a child-centered responsive interaction style that embeds many teaching opportunities into play) compared to community treatment as usual. Assessments were completed at baseline and 12 weeks later, immediately after the end of parent coaching sessions.
There was no effect of group assignment on parent-child interaction characteristics or on any child outcomes. Both groups of parents improved interaction skills and both groups of children demonstrated progress. Parents receiving P-ESDM demonstrated significantly stronger working alliances with their therapists than did the community group. Children in the community group received significantly more intervention hours than those in the P-ESDM group. For the group as a whole, both younger child age at the start of intervention, and a greater number of intervention hours, were positively related to degree of improvement in children’s behavior for most variables.
Parent-implemented intervention studies for early ASD have thus far not demonstrated the large effects seen in intensive treatment studies. Evidence that both younger age and more intervention hours positively affect developmental rates has implications for clinical practice, service delivery, and public policy.
Early Start Denver Model (ESDM); early intervention; toddler; parent–child interaction; autism
Brain enlargement has been observed in individuals with autism as early as two years of age. Studies using head circumference suggest that brain enlargement is a postnatal event that occurs around the latter part of the first year. To date, no brain imaging studies have systematically examined the period prior to age two. In this study we examine MRI brain volume in six month olds at high familial risk for autism.
The Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) is a longitudinal imaging study of infants at high risk for autism. This cross-sectional analysis examines brain volumes at six months of age, in high risk infants (N=98) in comparison to infants without family members with autism (low risk) (N=36). MRI scans are also examined for radiologic abnormalities.
No group differences were observed for intracranial cerebrum, cerebellum, lateral ventricle volumes, or head circumference.
We did not observe significant group differences for head circumference, brain volume, or abnormalities of radiologic findings in a sample of 6 month old infants at high-risk for autism. We are unable to conclude that these changes are not present in infants who later go on to receive a diagnosis of autism, but rather that they were not detected in a large group at high familial risk. Future longitudinal studies of the IBIS sample will examine whether brain volume may differ in those infants who go onto develop autism, estimating that approximately 20% of this sample may be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age two.
autism; child psychiatry
There has been significant advancement in various aspects of scientific knowledge concerning the role of cerebellum in the etiopathogenesis of autism. In the current consensus paper, we will observe the diversity of opinions regarding the involvement of this important site in the pathology of autism. Recent emergent findings in literature related to cerebellar involvement in autism are discussed, including: cerebellar pathology, cerebellar imaging and symptom expression in autism, cerebellar genetics, cerebellar immune function, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, GABAergic and glutamatergic systems, cholinergic, dopaminergic, serotonergic, and oxytocin related changes in autism, motor control and cognitive deficits, cerebellar coordination of movements and cognition, gene-environment interactions, therapeutics in autism and relevant animal models of autism. Points of consensus include presence of abnormal cerebellar anatomy, abnormal neurotransmitter systems, oxidative stress, cerebellar motor and cognitive deficits, and neuroinflammation in subjects with autism. Undefined areas or areas requiring further investigation include lack of treatment options for core symptoms of autism, vermal hypoplasia and other vermal abnormalities as a consistent feature of autism, mechanisms underlying cerebellar contributions to cognition, and unknown mechanisms underlying neuroinflammation.
Evidence from prospective high-risk infant studies suggests that early symptoms of autism usually emerge late in the first- or early in the second-year of life after a period of relatively typical development. This is the first neuroimaging study to prospectively examine white matter fiber tract organization during this interval in infants who develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by 24 months.
Participants included 92 infant siblings from an ongoing imaging study of autism. All participants had diffusion tensor imaging at 6 months and behavioral assessments at 24 months, with a majority contributing additional imaging data at either or both 12 and 24 months. At 24 months, 28 infants met criteria for ASD; 64 infants did not. Microstructural properties of white-matter fiber tracts reported to be associated with ASD or related behaviors were characterized by fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial and axial diffusivity.
FA trajectories differed significantly between infants who did versus did not develop ASD for 12 of 15 fiber tracts. Development for most fiber tracts in infants with ASD was characterized by elevated FA at 6 months followed by slower developmental change overtime relative to infants without ASD. Thus, by 24 months of age, lower FA values were evident for those with ASD.
These results suggest that the aberrant development of white matter pathways precede the manifestation of autistic symptoms in the first year of life. Longitudinal data are critical to characterizing the dynamic age-related brain and behavior changes underlying this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects social behavior and language acquisition. ASD exhibits great variability in outcomes, with some individuals remaining nonverbal and others exhibiting average or above average function. Cognitive ability contributes to heterogeneity in autism and serves as a modest predictor of later function. We show that a brain measure (event-related potentials, ERPs) of word processing in children with ASD, assessed at the age of 2 years (N = 24), is a broad and robust predictor of receptive language, cognitive ability, and adaptive behavior at ages 4 and 6 years, regardless of the form of intensive clinical treatment during the intervening years. The predictive strength of this brain measure increases over time, and exceeds the predictive strength of a measure of cognitive ability, used here for comparison. These findings have theoretical implications and may eventually lead to neural measures that allow early prediction of developmental outcomes as well as more individually tailored clinical interventions, with the potential for greater effectiveness in treating children with ASD.
The broader autism phenotype was assessed in parents who have two or more children with ASD (multiplex autism), parents who have no more than one child with ASD (simplex autism), parents who have a child with developmental delay without ASD, and parents who have typically developing children. Clinicians, naive to parent group membership status, rated broader autism phenotype characteristics from videotaped administration of the Broader Autism Phenotype Symptom Scale (BPASS). Differences among groups in BPASS scores in the four assessed domains (social motivation, conversational skills, expressiveness, and restricted interests) were examined using multivariate ANOVA and post-hoc comparisons. Further, ratings of videotapes by observers naive to family status were compared to live, non-naïve ratings by observers who were aware of family status (non-naïve). Findings demonstrate that the BPASS is an instrument resistant to rater bias. Parents from multiplex autism families showed significantly more autism phenotype characteristics than the parents in the other groups. Moreover, the parents from simplex autism families did not differ from the parents of children with developmental delay or typical development. Finally, no differences between live, non-naive ratings and videotaped, naive ratings were observed. These findings suggest that characteristics of the broader autism phenotype, specifically in the social and communication domains, are present in multiplex autism parents to a greater degree than simplex autism and control parents. Further, the results provide support for the notion that genetic transmission mechanisms may differ between families with more than one child with autism and families with only one child with autism.
broader autism phenotype; autism spectrum disorders; genetics; autism assessment
While it is apparent that rare variation can play an important role in the genetic architecture of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), the contribution of common variation to the risk of developing ASD is less clear. To produce a more comprehensive picture, we report Stage 2 of the Autism Genome Project genome-wide association study, adding 1301 ASD families and bringing the total to 2705 families analysed (Stages 1 and 2). In addition to evaluating the association of individual single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), we also sought evidence that common variants, en masse, might affect the risk. Despite genotyping over a million SNPs covering the genome, no single SNP shows significant association with ASD or selected phenotypes at a genome-wide level. The SNP that achieves the smallest P-value from secondary analyses is rs1718101. It falls in CNTNAP2, a gene previously implicated in susceptibility for ASD. This SNP also shows modest association with age of word/phrase acquisition in ASD subjects, of interest because features of language development are also associated with other variation in CNTNAP2. In contrast, allele scores derived from the transmission of common alleles to Stage 1 cases significantly predict case status in the independent Stage 2 sample. Despite being significant, the variance explained by these allele scores was small (Vm< 1%). Based on results from individual SNPs and their en masse effect on risk, as inferred from the allele score results, it is reasonable to conclude that common variants affect the risk for ASD but their individual effects are modest.
Structural variations in the chromosome 22q11.2 region mediated by non-allelic homologous recombination result in 22q11.2 deletion (del22q11.2) and 22q11.2 duplication (dup22q11.2) syndromes. The majority of del22q11.2 cases have facial and cardiac malformations, immunologic impairments, specific cognitive profile and increased risk for schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. The phenotype of dup22q11.2 is frequently without physical features but includes the spectrum of neurocognitive abnormalities. Although there is substantial evidence that haploinsufficiency for TBX1 plays a role in the physical features of del22q11.2, it is not known which gene(s) in the critical 1.5 Mb region are responsible for the observed spectrum of behavioral phenotypes. We identified an individual with a balanced translocation 46,XY,t(1;22)(p36.1;q11.2) and a behavioral phenotype characterized by cognitive impairment, autism and schizophrenia in the absence of congenital malformations. Using somatic cell hybrids and comparative genomic hybridization we mapped the chromosome-22 breakpoint within intron 7 of the GNB1L gene. Copy number evaluations and direct DNA sequencing of GNB1L in 271 schizophrenia and 513 autism cases revealed dup22q11.2 in two families with autism and private GNB1L missense variants in conserved residues in three families (p=0.036). The identified missense variants affect residues in the WD40 repeat domains and are predicted to have deleterious effects on the protein. Prior studies provided evidence that GNB1L may have a role in schizophrenia. Our findings support involvement of GNB1L in autism spectrum disorders as well.
22q11.2; translocation; neurodevelopmental disorders
We investigated repetitive and stereotyped behavior (RSB) and its relationship to morphometric measures of the basal ganglia and thalami in 3-4 year old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n=77) and developmental delay without autism (DD; n=34). Children were assessed through clinical evaluation and parent report using RSB-specific scales extracted from the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), the Autism Diagnostic Interview, and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist. A subset of children with ASD (n=45), DD (n=14) and a group of children with typical development (TD; n=25) were also assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Children with ASD demonstrated elevated RSB across all measures compared to children with DD. Enlargement of the left and right striatum, more specifically the left and right putamen, and left caudate, was observed in the ASD compared to the TD group. However, nuclei were not significantly enlarged after controlling for cerebral volume. The DD group, in comparison to the ASD group, demonstrated smaller thalami and basal ganglia regions even when scaled for cerebral volume, with the exception of the left striatum, left putamen, and right putamen. Elevated RSB, as measured by the ADOS, was associated with decreased volumes in several brain regions: left thalamus, right globus pallidus, left and right putamen, right striatum and a trend for left globus pallidus and left striatum within the ASD group. These results confirm earlier reports that RSB is common early in the clinical course of ASD and, furthermore, demonstrate that such behaviors may be associated with decreased volumes of the basal ganglia and thalamus.
Performance IQ (PIQ) greater than verbal IQ (VIQ) is often observed in studies of the cognitive abilities of autistic individuals. This characteristic is correlated with social and communication impairments, key parts of the autism diagnosis. We present the first genetic analyses of IQ discrepancy (PIQ–VIQ) as an autism-related phenotype. We performed genome-wide joint linkage and segregation analyses on 287 multiplex families, using a Markov chain Monte Carlo approach. Genetic data included a genome-scan of 387 micro-satellite markers in 210 families augmented with additional markers added in a subset of families. Empirical P values were calculated for five interesting regions. Linkage analysis identified five chromosomal regions with substantial regional evidence of linkage; 10p12 [P = 0.001; genome-wide (gw) P = 0.05], 16q23 (P = 0.015; gw P = 0.53), 2p21 (P = 0.03, gw P = 0.78), 6q25 (P = 0.047, gw P = 0.91) and 15q23–25 (P = 0.053, gw P = 0.93). The location of the chromosome 10 linkage signal coincides with a region noted in a much earlier genome-scan for autism, and the chromosome 16 signal coincides exactly with a linkage signal for non-word repetition in specific language impairment. This study provides strong evidence for a QTL influencing IQ discrepancy in families with autistic individuals on chromosome 10, and suggestive evidence for a QTL on chromosome 16. The location of the chromosome 16 signal suggests a candidate gene, CDH13, a T-cadherin expressed in the brain, which has been implicated in previous SNP studies of autism and ADHD.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a highly heritable disorder of complex and heterogeneous aetiology. It is primarily characterized by altered cognitive ability including impaired language and communication skills and fundamental deficits in social reciprocity. Despite some notable successes in neuropsychiatric genetics, overall, the high heritability of ASD (~90%) remains poorly explained by common genetic risk variants. However, recent studies suggest that rare genomic variation, in particular copy number variation, may account for a significant proportion of the genetic basis of ASD. We present a large scale analysis to identify candidate genes which may contain low-frequency recessive variation contributing to ASD while taking into account the potential contribution of population differences to the genetic heterogeneity of ASD. Our strategy, homozygous haplotype (HH) mapping, aims to detect homozygous segments of identical haplotype structure that are shared at a higher frequency amongst ASD patients compared to parental controls. The analysis was performed on 1,402 Autism Genome Project trios genotyped for 1 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We identified 25 known and 1,218 novel ASD candidate genes in the discovery analysis including CADM2, ABHD14A, CHRFAM7A, GRIK2, GRM3, EPHA3, FGF10, KCND2, PDZK1, IMMP2L and FOXP2. Furthermore, 10 of the previously reported ASD genes and 300 of the novel candidates identified in the discovery analysis were replicated in an independent sample of 1,182 trios. Our results demonstrate that regions of HH are significantly enriched for previously reported ASD candidate genes and the observed association is independent of gene size (odds ratio 2.10). Our findings highlight the applicability of HH mapping in complex disorders such as ASD and offer an alternative approach to the analysis of genome-wide association data.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00439-011-1094-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of conditions characterized by impairments in reciprocal social interaction and communication, and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors1. Individuals with an ASD vary greatly in cognitive development, which can range from above average to intellectual disability (ID)2. While ASDs are known to be highly heritable (~90%)3, the underlying genetic determinants are still largely unknown. Here, we analyzed the genome-wide characteristics of rare (<1% frequency) copy number variation (CNV) in ASD using dense genotyping arrays. When comparing 996 ASD individuals of European ancestry to 1,287 matched controls, cases were found to carry a higher global burden of rare, genic CNVs (1.19 fold, P= 0.012), especially so for loci previously implicated in either ASD and/or intellectual disability (1.69 fold, P= 3.4×10−4). Among the CNVs, there were numerous de novo and inherited events, sometimes in combination in a given family, implicating many novel ASD genes like SHANK2, SYNGAP1, DLGAP2 and the X-linked DDX53-PTCHD1 locus. We also discovered an enrichment of CNVs disrupting functional gene-sets involved in cellular proliferation, projection and motility, and GTPase/Ras signaling. Our results reveal many new genetic and functional targets in ASD that may lead to final connected pathways.
Autism is currently viewed as a spectrum condition including strikingly different severity levels. IQ is consistently described as one of the primary aspects of the heterogeneity in autism. To investigate the possibility of more than one distinct subtype of autism based on IQ, both latent class analysis and taxometric methods were used to classify Mullen IQ scores in a sample of children with autism spectrum disorder (N=456). Evidence for multiple IQ-based subgroups was found using both methods. Groups differed in level of intellectual functioning and patterns of verbal versus nonverbal ability. Results support the notion of distinct subtypes of autism which differ in severity of intellectual ability, patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and severity of autism symptoms.
Autism is a common neurodevelopmental disorder with a complex mode of inheritance. It is one of the most highly heritable of the complex disorders, however, the underlying genetic factors remain largely unknown. Here, we report mutations in the X-chromosome PTCHD1 (patched-related) gene, in seven families with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and in three families with intellectual disability (ID). A 167 Kb microdeletion spanning exon 1 was found in two brothers, one with ASD the other with learning disability and ASD features, and a 90 Kb microdeletion spanning the entire gene was found in three males with ID in a second family. In 900 ASD and 208 ID male probands we identified seven different missense changes in eight probands, all male and inherited from unaffected mothers, and not found in controls. Two of the ASD individuals with missense changes also carried a de novo deletion at another ASD-susceptibility locus (DPYD and DPP6), suggesting complex genetic contributions. In additional males with ASD, we identified deletions in the 5’ flanking region of PTCHD1 disrupting a complex non-coding RNA and potential regulatory elements; equivalent changes were not found in male control individuals (p=1.2 ×10-5). Systematic screening at PTCHD1 and 5’-flanking regions, suggests involvement of this locus in ~1% of ASD and ID individuals.
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.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are childhood neurodevelopmental disorders with complex genetic origins1–4. Previous studies focusing on candidate genes or genomic regions have identified several copy number variations (CNVs) that are associated with an increased risk of ASDs5–9. Here we present the results from a whole-genome CNV study on a cohort of 859 ASD cases and 1,409 healthy children of European ancestry who were genotyped with ~550,000 single nucleotide polymorphism markers, in an attempt to comprehensively identify CNVs conferring susceptibility to ASDs. Positive findings were evaluated in an independent cohort of 1,336 ASD cases and 1,110 controls of European ancestry. Besides previously reported ASD candidate genes, such as NRXN1 (ref. 10) and CNTN4 (refs 11, 12), several new susceptibility genes encoding neuronal cell-adhesion molecules, including NLGN1 and ASTN2, were enriched with CNVs in ASD cases compared to controls (P = 9.5 × 10−3). Furthermore, CNVs within or surrounding genes involved in the ubiquitin pathways, including UBE3A, PARK2, RFWD2 and FBXO40, were affected by CNVs not observed in controls (P = 3.3 × 10−3). We also identified duplications 55 kilobases upstream of complementary DNA AK123120 (P = 3.6 × 10−6). Although these variants may be individually rare, they target genes involved in neuronal cell-adhesion or ubiquitin degradation, indicating that these two important gene networks expressed within the central nervous system may contribute to the genetic susceptibility of ASD.
Although autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have a substantial genetic basis, most of the known genetic risk has been traced to rare variants, principally copy number variants (CNVs). To identify common risk variation, the Autism Genome Project (AGP) Consortium genotyped 1558 rigorously defined ASD families for 1 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and analyzed these SNP genotypes for association with ASD. In one of four primary association analyses, the association signal for marker rs4141463, located within MACROD2, crossed the genome-wide association significance threshold of P < 5 × 10−8. When a smaller replication sample was analyzed, the risk allele at rs4141463 was again over-transmitted; yet, consistent with the winner's curse, its effect size in the replication sample was much smaller; and, for the combined samples, the association signal barely fell below the P < 5 × 10−8 threshold. Exploratory analyses of phenotypic subtypes yielded no significant associations after correction for multiple testing. They did, however, yield strong signals within several genes, KIAA0564, PLD5, POU6F2, ST8SIA2 and TAF1C.
Structural variations in the chromosome 22q11.2 region mediated by nonallelic homologous recombination result in 22q11.2 deletion (del22q11.2) and 22q11.2 duplication (dup22q11.2) syndromes. The majority of del22q11.2 cases have facial and cardiac malformations, immunologic impairments, specific cognitive profile and increased risk for schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The phenotype of dup22q11.2 is frequently without physical features but includes the spectrum of neurocognitive abnormalities. Although there is substantial evidence that haploinsufficiency for TBX1 plays a role in the physical features of del22q11.2, it is not known which gene(s) in the critical 1.5 Mb region are responsible for the observed spectrum of behavioral phenotypes. We identified an individual with a balanced translocation 46,XY,t(1;22)(p36.1;q11.2) and a behavioral phenotype characterized by cognitive impairment, autism, and schizophrenia in the absence of congenital malformations. Using somatic cell hybrids and comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) we mapped the chromosome-22 breakpoint within intron 7 of the GNB1L gene. Copy number evaluations and direct DNA sequencing of GNB1L in 271 schizophrenia and 513 autism cases revealed dup22q11.2 in two families with autism and private GNB1L missense variants in conserved residues in three families (P = 0.036). The identified missense variants affect residues in the WD40 repeat domains and are predicted to have deleterious effects on the protein. Prior studies provided evidence that GNB1L may have a role in schizophrenia. Our findings support involvement of GNB1L in ASDs as well. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
22q11.2; translocation; neurodevelopmental disorders