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1.  Common Variants in Left/Right Asymmetry Genes and Pathways Are Associated with Relative Hand Skill 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003751.
Humans display structural and functional asymmetries in brain organization, strikingly with respect to language and handedness. The molecular basis of these asymmetries is unknown. We report a genome-wide association study meta-analysis for a quantitative measure of relative hand skill in individuals with dyslexia [reading disability (RD)] (n = 728). The most strongly associated variant, rs7182874 (P = 8.68×10−9), is located in PCSK6, further supporting an association we previously reported. We also confirmed the specificity of this association in individuals with RD; the same locus was not associated with relative hand skill in a general population cohort (n = 2,666). As PCSK6 is known to regulate NODAL in the development of left/right (LR) asymmetry in mice, we developed a novel approach to GWAS pathway analysis, using gene-set enrichment to test for an over-representation of highly associated variants within the orthologs of genes whose disruption in mice yields LR asymmetry phenotypes. Four out of 15 LR asymmetry phenotypes showed an over-representation (FDR≤5%). We replicated three of these phenotypes; situs inversus, heterotaxia, and double outlet right ventricle, in the general population cohort (FDR≤5%). Our findings lead us to propose that handedness is a polygenic trait controlled in part by the molecular mechanisms that establish LR body asymmetry early in development.
Author Summary
Humans have developed a population level bias towards right-handedness for tool-use. Understanding the genetic basis of handedness can help explain why this bias exists and may offer clues into the evolution of handedness and brain asymmetry. We have tested for correlation between relative hand skill and hundreds of thousands of genetic variants in a cohort of individuals with reading disability. The strongest associated variant is in the gene PCSK6, an enzyme that cleaves NODAL into an active form. NODAL plays a key role during the establishment of left/right (LR) asymmetry in diverse species, from snails to mammals. Pcsk6 knock-out mice display LR asymmetry defects like heterotaxia (abnormal organ positioning). We uncovered further variants associated with relative hand skill in the human versions of genes that also cause the LR asymmetry phenotypes heterotaxia, and situs inversus (reversal of organ asymmetry) when knocked out in mice. These results replicate in an independent general population cohort without reading disability. We propose that handedness is under the control of many variants, some of which are in genes that also contribute to the determination of body LR asymmetry.
PMCID: PMC3772043  PMID: 24068947
2.  The Dyslexia Candidate Locus on 2p12 Is Associated with General Cognitive Ability and White Matter Structure 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50321.
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.
PMCID: PMC3509064  PMID: 23209710
3.  Correction: Identification of Candidate Genes for Dyslexia Susceptibility on Chromosome 18 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):10.1371/annotation/2294a38b-878d-42f0-9faf-0822db4a0248.
PMCID: PMC3006396
4.  PCSK6 is associated with handedness in individuals with dyslexia 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;20(3):608-614.
Approximately 90% of humans are right-handed. Handedness is a heritable trait, yet the genetic basis is not well understood. Here we report a genome-wide association study for a quantitative measure of relative hand skill in individuals with dyslexia [reading disability (RD)]. The most highly associated marker, rs11855415 (P = 4.7 × 10−7), is located within PCSK6. Two independent cohorts with RD show the same trend, with the minor allele conferring greater relative right-hand skill. Meta-analysis of all three RD samples is genome-wide significant (n = 744, P = 2.0 × 10−8). Conversely, in the general population (n = 2666), we observe a trend towards reduced laterality of hand skill for the minor allele (P = 0.0020). These results provide molecular evidence that cerebral asymmetry and dyslexia are linked. Furthermore, PCSK6 is a protease that cleaves the left–right axis determining protein NODAL. Functional studies of PCSK6 promise insights into mechanisms underlying cerebral lateralization and dyslexia.
PMCID: PMC3016905  PMID: 21051773
5.  Identification of Candidate Genes for Dyslexia Susceptibility on Chromosome 18 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13712.
Six independent studies have identified linkage to chromosome 18 for developmental dyslexia or general reading ability. Until now, no candidate genes have been identified to explain this linkage. Here, we set out to identify the gene(s) conferring susceptibility by a two stage strategy of linkage and association analysis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Linkage analysis: 264 UK families and 155 US families each containing at least one child diagnosed with dyslexia were genotyped with a dense set of microsatellite markers on chromosome 18. Association analysis: Using a discovery sample of 187 UK families, nearly 3000 SNPs were genotyped across the chromosome 18 dyslexia susceptibility candidate region. Following association analysis, the top ranking SNPs were then genotyped in the remaining samples. The linkage analysis revealed a broad signal that spans approximately 40 Mb from 18p11.2 to 18q12.2. Following the association analysis and subsequent replication attempts, we observed consistent association with the same SNPs in three genes; melanocortin 5 receptor (MC5R), dymeclin (DYM) and neural precursor cell expressed, developmentally down-regulated 4-like (NEDD4L).
Along with already published biological evidence, MC5R, DYM and NEDD4L make attractive candidates for dyslexia susceptibility genes. However, further replication and functional studies are still required.
PMCID: PMC2965662  PMID: 21060895
6.  Characterization of a Family with Rare Deletions in CNTNAP5 and DOCK4 Suggests Novel Risk Loci for Autism and Dyslexia 
Biological Psychiatry  2010;68(4):320-328.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by social, communication, and behavioral deficits and complex genetic etiology. A recent study of 517 ASD families implicated DOCK4 by single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) association and a microdeletion in an affected sibling pair.
The DOCK4 microdeletion on 7q31.1 was further characterized in this family using QuantiSNP analysis of 1M SNP array data and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. Extended family members were tested by polymerase chain reaction amplification of junction fragments. DOCK4 dosage was measured in additional samples using SNP arrays. Since QuantiSNP analysis identified a novel CNTNAP5 microdeletion in the same affected sibling pair, this gene was sequenced in 143 additional ASD families. Further polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis included 380 ASD cases and suitable control subjects.
The maternally inherited microdeletion encompassed chr7:110,663,978-111,257,682 and led to a DOCK4-IMMP2L fusion transcript. It was also detected in five extended family members with no ASD. However, six of nine individuals with this microdeletion had poor reading ability, which prompted us to screen 606 other dyslexia cases. This led to the identification of a second DOCK4 microdeletion co-segregating with dyslexia. Assessment of genomic background in the original ASD family detected a paternal 2q14.3 microdeletion disrupting CNTNAP5 that was also transmitted to both affected siblings. Analysis of other ASD cohorts revealed four additional rare missense changes in CNTNAP5. No exonic deletions of DOCK4 or CNTNAP5 were seen in 2091 control subjects.
This study highlights two new risk factors for ASD and dyslexia and demonstrates the importance of performing a high-resolution assessment of genomic background, even after detection of a rare and likely damaging microdeletion using a targeted approach.
PMCID: PMC2941017  PMID: 20346443
Autistic; CNTNAP5; CNV; DOCK4; dyslexia; neurexin
7.  A Common Variant Associated with Dyslexia Reduces Expression of the KIAA0319 Gene 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(3):e1000436.
Numerous genetic association studies have implicated the KIAA0319 gene on human chromosome 6p22 in dyslexia susceptibility. The causative variant(s) remains unknown but may modulate gene expression, given that (1) a dyslexia-associated haplotype has been implicated in the reduced expression of KIAA0319, and (2) the strongest association has been found for the region spanning exon 1 of KIAA0319. Here, we test the hypothesis that variant(s) responsible for reduced KIAA0319 expression resides on the risk haplotype close to the gene's transcription start site. We identified seven single-nucleotide polymorphisms on the risk haplotype immediately upstream of KIAA0319 and determined that three of these are strongly associated with multiple reading-related traits. Using luciferase-expressing constructs containing the KIAA0319 upstream region, we characterized the minimal promoter and additional putative transcriptional regulator regions. This revealed that the minor allele of rs9461045, which shows the strongest association with dyslexia in our sample (max p-value = 0.0001), confers reduced luciferase expression in both neuronal and non-neuronal cell lines. Additionally, we found that the presence of this rs9461045 dyslexia-associated allele creates a nuclear protein-binding site, likely for the transcriptional silencer OCT-1. Knocking down OCT-1 expression in the neuronal cell line SHSY5Y using an siRNA restores KIAA0319 expression from the risk haplotype to nearly that seen from the non-risk haplotype. Our study thus pinpoints a common variant as altering the function of a dyslexia candidate gene and provides an illustrative example of the strategic approach needed to dissect the molecular basis of complex genetic traits.
Author Summary
Dyslexia, or reading disability, is a common disorder caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Genetic studies have implicated a number of genes as candidates for playing a role in dyslexia. We functionally characterized one such gene (KIAA0319) to identify variant(s) that might affect gene expression and contribute to the disorder. We discovered a variant residing outside of the protein-coding region of KIAA0319 that reduces expression of the gene. This variant creates a binding site for the transcription factor OCT-1. Previous studies have shown that OCT-1 binding to a specific DNA sequence upstream of a gene can reduce the expression of that gene. In this case, reduced KIAA0319 expression could lead to improper development of regions of the brain involved in reading ability. This is the first study to identify a functional variant implicated in dyslexia. More broadly, our study illustrates the steps that can be utilized for identifying mutations causing other complex genetic disorders.
PMCID: PMC2653637  PMID: 19325871

Results 1-7 (7)