Social communication difficulties represent an autistic trait that is highly heritable and persistent during the course of development. However, little is known about the underlying genetic architecture of this phenotype.
We performed a genome-wide association study on parent-reported social communication problems using items of the children’s communication checklist (age 10 to 11 years) studying single and/or joint marker effects. Analyses were conducted in a large UK population-based birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and their Children, ALSPAC, N = 5,584) and followed-up within a sample of children with comparable measures from Western Australia (RAINE, N = 1364).
Two of our seven independent top signals (P-discovery <1.0E-05) were replicated (0.009
Single-variant findings were complemented by estimations of the narrow-sense heritability in ALSPAC suggesting that approximately a fifth of the phenotypic variance in social communication traits is accounted for by joint additive effects of genotyped single nucleotide polymorphisms throughout the genome (h2(SE) = 0.18(0.066), P = 0.0027).
Overall, our study provides both joint and single-SNP-based evidence for the contribution of common polymorphisms to variation in social communication phenotypes.
ALSPAC; RAINE; Autistic trait; GWAS; Social communication; Association
The ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ (Eyes) test is an advanced test of theory of mind. It is widely used to assess individual differences in social cognition and emotion recognition across different groups and cultures. The present study examined distributions of responses and scores on a Spanish version of the test in a non-clinical Spanish adult population, and assessed test-retest reliability over a 1-year interval.
A total of 358 undergraduates of both sexes, age 18 to 65 years, completed the Spanish version of the test twice over an interval of 1 year. The Bland-Altman method was used to calculate test-retest reliability.
Distributions of responses and scores were optimal. Test-retest reliability for total score on the Eyes test was .63 (P <.01), based on the intraclass correlation coefficient. Test-retest reliability using the Bland-Altman method was fairly good.
This is the first study providing evidence that the Eyes test is reliable and stable over a 1-year period, in a non-clinical sample of adults.
Reading the mind in the eyes; Reliability; Assessment; Social cognition; Theory of mind
Beyond the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), associated symptoms of anxiety can cause substantial impairment for individuals affected by ASD and those who care for them.
We utilized a potentiated startle paradigm with a puff of air to the neck as the unconditioned stimulus in order to investigate differences between response to cued fear and contextual anxiety among cognitively able adolescents diagnosed with ASD and an age- and IQ-matched typically developing group.
In a threat-modulated startle paradigm, response patterns to neutral, predictable, and unpredictable conditions were comparable across typically developing and ASD youth in terms of startle response magnitude and latency. However, the ASD group showed significantly greater absolute startle responsivity at baseline and throughout the experiment, suggesting possibly enhanced general sensitivity to threatening contexts. The ASD group, but not the control group, demonstrated moderate to strong negative correlations between psychophysiological response to unpredictable threats (uncertainty) and questionnaire measures of generalized anxiety, intolerance of uncertainty, and repetitive behavior.
Our data suggest enhanced general reactivity among the ASD group, possibly reflecting greater sensitivity to the threatening context of the startle paradigm. Associations with the response to uncertainty may help explain shared neurobehavioral mechanisms in ASD and anxiety. This task can provide useful targets for future neuroimaging and genetics studies as well as specific avenues for intervention. We emphasize the importance of further basic and clinical research into links among these important constructs.
Autism spectrum disorder; Anxiety; Fear; Potentiated startle; Eye blink; EMG; Intolerance of uncertainty; Psychophysiology; Repetitive behavior
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) manifest with neurodevelopmental phenotypes including communicative, social and behavioral impairments that affect as many as 1 in 88 children. The majority of autism cases have no known genetic cause, suggesting complex genetics of the disorder, but a few genes of large effect have been identified.
In order to identify novel ASD genetic correlates, we investigated non-protein coding RNAs (ncRNAs) which are abundantly transcribed from the human genome, enriched in the brain, and have been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders. Using an algorithm that we developed, we examined a publicly available transcriptomics database, AceView, to identify the natural antisense transcripts (NATs) that overlap with known autism-related genes. We validated the presence and differential expression of NATs in different brain regions of ASD and control brains using qRT-PCR. Additionally, we investigated the subcellular localization of these transcripts in a neuronal cell line using RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq).
We found noncoding antisense RNA transcripts at approximately 40% of loci previously implicated in ASD. We confirmed the expression of 10 antisense RNAs in different postmortem human brain tissues. The expression of five antisense transcripts was found to be region-specific, suggesting a role for these ncRNAs in the development and function of specific brain regions. Some antisense RNAs overlapping suspected ASD genes exhibited concordant expression relative to their sense protein-coding genes, while other sense-antisense pairs demonstrate a discordant relationship. Interestingly, the antisense RNA corresponding to the SYNGAP1 locus (SYNGAP1-AS) was found to be differentially expressed in brain regions of patients with ASD compared to control individuals. RNA-seq analysis of subcellular compartments from SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells demonstrated that antisense RNAs to ASD candidate genes are predominantly expressed in the nucleoplasmic or chromatin compartments, implying their involvement in nuclear-associated processes.
Our data suggests that NATs are abundantly expressed from ASD-related loci and provide evidence for their roles in target gene regulation, neurodevelopment and autism pathogenesis. This class of RNA should therefore be considered in functional studies aimed at understanding genetic risk factors for ASD.
Autism; ASDs; Epigenetics; lncRNAs; NATs; ncRNAs
Since RNA expression differences have been reported in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for blood and brain, and differential alternative splicing (DAS) has been reported in ASD brains, we determined if there was DAS in blood mRNA of ASD subjects compared to typically developing (TD) controls, as well as in ASD subgroups related to cerebral volume.
RNA from blood was processed on whole genome exon arrays for 2-4–year-old ASD and TD boys. An ANCOVA with age and batch as covariates was used to predict DAS for ALL ASD (n=30), ASD with normal total cerebral volumes (NTCV), and ASD with large total cerebral volumes (LTCV) compared to TD controls (n=20).
A total of 53 genes were predicted to have DAS for ALL ASD versus TD, 169 genes for ASD_NTCV versus TD, 1 gene for ASD_LTCV versus TD, and 27 genes for ASD_LTCV versus ASD_NTCV. These differences were significant at P <0.05 after false discovery rate corrections for multiple comparisons (FDR <5% false positives). A number of the genes predicted to have DAS in ASD are known to regulate DAS (SFPQ, SRPK1, SRSF11, SRSF2IP, FUS, LSM14A). In addition, a number of genes with predicted DAS are involved in pathways implicated in previous ASD studies, such as ROS monocyte/macrophage, Natural Killer Cell, mTOR, and NGF signaling. The only pathways significant after multiple comparison corrections (FDR <0.05) were the Nrf2-mediated reactive oxygen species (ROS) oxidative response (superoxide dismutase 2, catalase, peroxiredoxin 1, PIK3C3, DNAJC17, microsomal glutathione S-transferase 3) and superoxide radical degradation (SOD2, CAT).
These data support differences in alternative splicing of mRNA in blood of ASD subjects compared to TD controls that differ related to head size. The findings are preliminary, need to be replicated in independent cohorts, and predicted alternative splicing differences need to be confirmed using direct analytical methods.
Autism; ASD; RNA; Splicing; Head size; Gene expression
Deletion of the Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) critical region (WBSCR), at 7q11.23, causes a developmental disorder commonly characterized by hypersociability and excessive talkativeness and often considered the opposite behavioral phenotype to autism. Duplication of the WBSCR leads to severe delay in expressive language. Gene–dosage effects on language development at 7q11.23 have been hypothesized.
Molecular characterization of the WBSCR was performed by fluorescence in situ hybridization and high-resolution single-nucleotide polymorphism array in two individuals with severe autism enrolled in a genetic study of autism who showed typical WBS facial dysmorphism on systematic clinical genetic examination. The serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR, locus SLC6A4) was genotyped. Platelet serotonin levels and urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin excretion were measured. Behavioral and cognitive phenotypes were examined.
The two patients had common WBSCR deletions between proximal and medial low copy repeat clusters, met diagnostic criteria for autism and displayed severe impairment in communication, including a total absence of expressive speech. Both patients carried the 5-HTTLPR ss genotype and exhibited platelet hyperserotonemia and low melatonin production.
Our observations indicate that behaviors and neurochemical phenotypes typically associated with autism can occur in patients with common WBSCR deletions. The results raise intriguing questions about phenotypic heterogeneity in WBS and regarding genetic and/or environmental factors interacting with specific genes at 7q11.23 sensitive to dosage alterations that can influence the development of social communication skills. Thus, the influence of WBSCR genes on social communication expression might be dramatically modified by other genes, such as 5-HTTLPR, known to influence the severity of social communication impairments in autism, or by environmental factors, such as hyperserotonemia, given that hyperserotonemia is found in WBS associated with autism but not in WBS without autism. In this regard, WBS provides a potentially fruitful model with which to develop integrated genetic, cognitive, behavioral and neurochemical approaches to study genotype–phenotype correlations, possible gene–environment interactions and genetic background effects. The results underscore the importance of considering careful clinical and molecular genetic examination of individuals diagnosed with autism.
7q11.23; Autistic disorder; Serotonin; Gene–environment interactions; Gene–phenotype correlations; Genetic background
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental conditions with symptoms manifesting before the age of 3, generally persisting throughout life and affecting social development and communication. Here, we have investigated changes in protein biomarkers in blood during childhood and adolescent development.
We carried out a multiplex immunoassay profiling analysis of serum samples from 37 individuals with a diagnosis of ASD and their matched, non-affected siblings, aged between 4 and 18 years, to identify molecular pathways affected over the course of ASDs.
This analysis revealed age-dependent differences in the levels of 12 proteins involved in inflammation, growth and hormonal signaling.
These deviations in age-related molecular trajectories provide further insight into the progression and pathophysiology of the disorder and, if replicated, may contribute to better classification of ASD individuals, as well as to improved treatment and prognosis. The results also underline the importance of stratifying and analyzing samples by age, especially in ASD and potentially other developmental disorders.
Autism; Age; Biomarkers; Molecular profiling; Inflammation; Metabolism
We recently reported a terminal deletion of approximately 2.4 Mb at chromosome 8p23.2-pter in a boy with autism. The deleted region contained the DLGAP2 gene that encodes the neuronal post-synaptic density protein, discs, large (Drosophila) homolog-associated protein 2. The study aimed to investigate whether DLGAP2 is genetically associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in general.
We re-sequenced all the exons of DLGPA2 in 515 patients with ASD and 596 control subjects from Taiwan. We also conducted bioinformatic analysis and family study of variants identified in this study.
We detected nine common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and sixteen novel missense rare variants in this sample. We found that AA homozygotes of rs2906569 (minor allele G, alternate allele A) at intron 1 (P = 0.003) and CC homozygotes of rs2301963 (minor allele A, alternate allele C) at exon 3 (P = 0.0003) were significantly over-represented in the patient group compared to the controls. We also found no differences in the combined frequency of rare missense variants between the two groups. Some of these rare variants were predicted to have an impact on the function of DLGAP2 using informatics analysis, and the family study revealed most of the rare missense mutations in patients were inherited from their unaffected parents.
We detected some common and rare genetic variants of DLGAP2 that might have implication in the pathogenesis of ASD, but they alone may not be sufficient to lead to clinical phenotypes. We suggest that further genetic or environmental factors in affected patients may be present and determine the clinical manifestations.
Autism spectrum disorders; DLGAP2; Common variants; Rare variants
Patients with anorexia may have elevated autistic traits. In this study, we tested test whether patients with anorexia nervosa (anorexia) have an elevated score on a dimensional measure of autistic traits, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), as well as on trait measures relevant to the autism spectrum: the Empathy Quotient (EQ), and the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).
Two groups were tested: (1) female adolescents with anorexia: n = 66, aged 12 to 18 years; and (2) female adolescents without anorexia: n =1,609, aged 12 to 18 years. Both groups were tested using the AQ, EQ, and SQ, via the parent-report adolescent versions for patients aged 12 to 15 years old, and the self-report adult versions for patients aged over 16 years.
As predicted, the patients with anorexia had a higher AQ and SQ. Their EQ score was reduced, but only for the parent-report version in the younger age group. Using EQ-SQ scores to calculate ‘cognitive types’, patients with anorexia were more likely to show the Type S profile (systemizing (S) better than empathy (E)), compared with typical females.
Females with anorexia have elevated autistic traits. Clinicians should consider if a focus on autistic traits might be helpful in the assessment and treatment of anorexia. Future research needs to establish if these results reflect traits or states associated with anorexia.
Autistic traits; Anorexia; Autism spectrum conditions; Broader autism phenotype
Aberrant brain connectivity, especially with long-distance underconnectivity, has been recognized as a candidate pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorders. However, a number of diffusion tensor imaging studies investigating people with autism spectrum disorders have yielded inconsistent results.
To test the long-distance underconnectivity hypothesis, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging studies in subjects with autism spectrum disorder. Diffusion tensor imaging studies comparing individuals with autism spectrum disorders with typically developing individuals were searched using MEDLINE, Web of Science and EMBASE from 1980 through 1 August 2012. Standardized mean differences were calculated as an effect size of the tracts.
A comprehensive literature search identified 25 relevant diffusion tensor imaging studies comparing autism spectrum disorders and typical development with regions-of-interest methods. Among these, 14 studies examining regions of interest with suprathreshold sample sizes were included in the meta-analysis. A random-effects model demonstrated significant fractional anisotropy reductions in the corpus callosum (P = 0.023, n = 387 (autism spectrum disorders/typically developing individuals: 208/179)), left uncinate fasciculus (P = 0.011, n = 242 (117/125)), and left superior longitudinal fasciculus (P = 0.016, n = 182 (96/86)), and significant increases of mean diffusivity in the corpus callosum (P = 0.006, n = 254 (129/125)) and superior longitudinal fasciculus bilaterally (P = 0.031 and 0.011, left and right, respectively, n = 109 (51/58)), in subjects with autism spectrum disorders compared with typically developing individuals with no significant publication bias.
The current meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging studies in subjects with autism spectrum disorders emphasizes important roles of the superior longitudinal fasciculus, uncinate fasciculus, and corpus callosum in the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorders and supports the long-distance underconnectivity hypothesis.
Autistic disorder; Asperger; Brain; Human; Imaging; Pervasive developmental disorder
The human oxytocin receptor (hOXTR) is implicated in the etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and is a potential target for therapeutic intervention. Several studies have reported single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the OXTR gene associated with ASDs. These SNPs, however, reside outside the protein-coding region. Not much is known about genetic variations that cause amino acid substitutions that alter receptor functions.
Variations in the OXTR gene were analyzed in 132 ASD patients at Kanazawa University Hospital in Japan and 248 unrelated healthy Japanese volunteers by re-sequencing and real-time polymerase chain reaction-based genotyping. Functional changes in variant OXTRs were assessed by radioligand binding assay and measurements of intracellular free calcium concentrations ([Ca2+]i) and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) levels.
Six subjects (4.5%) in the ASD group and two in the control group (0.8%) were identified as heterozygotes carrying the R376G variation (rs35062132; c.1126C>G); one individual from the ASD group (0.8%) and three members of the control group (1.2%) were found to be carrying R376C (c.1126C>T). The C/G genotype significantly correlated with an increased risk of ASDs (odds ratio (OR) = 5.83; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.16 to 29.33; P = 0.024, Fisher’s exact test). Consistently, the G allele showed a correlation with an increased likelihood of ASDs (OR = 5.73; 95% CI = 1.15 to 28.61; P = 0.024, Fisher’s exact test). The frequencies of the C/T genotype and the T allele in the ASD and control groups did not differ significantly. We also examined changes in agonist-induced cellular responses mediated by the variant receptors hOXTR-376G and hOXTR-376C. OXT-induced receptor internalization and recycling were faster in hOXTR-376G-expressing HEK-293 cells than in cells expressing hOXTR-376R or hOXTR-376C. In addition, the elevation in [Ca2+]i and IP3 formation decreased in the cells expressing hOXTR-376G and hOXTR-376C tagged with enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP), in comparison with the cells expressing the common-type hOXTR-376R tagged with EGFP.
These results suggest that the rare genetic variation rs35062132 might contribute to the pathogenesis of ASDs, and could provide a molecular basis of individual differences in OXTR-mediated modulation of social behavior.
Autism spectrum disorders; Inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate; Intracellular free calcium; Oxytocin; Oxytocin receptor; Single-nucleotide variation
Comparative gene expression profiling analysis is useful in discovering differentially expressed genes associated with various diseases, including mental disorders. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of complex childhood-onset neurodevelopmental and genetic disorders characterized by deficits in language development and verbal communication, impaired reciprocal social interaction, and the presence of repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. The study aimed to identify novel genes associated with the pathogenesis of ASD.
We conducted comparative total gene expression profiling analysis of lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) between 16 male patients with ASD and 16 male control subjects to screen differentially expressed genes associated with ASD. We verified one of the differentially expressed genes, FOXP1, using real-time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) in a sample of 83 male patients and 83 male controls that included the initial 16 male patients and male controls, respectively.
A total of 252 differentially expressed probe sets representing 202 genes were detected between the two groups, including 89 up- and 113 downregulated genes in the ASD group. RT-qPCR verified significant elevation of the FOXP1 gene transcript of LCL in a sample of 83 male patients (10.46 ± 11.34) compared with 83 male controls (5.17 ± 8.20, P = 0.001).
Comparative gene expression profiling analysis of LCL is useful in discovering novel genetic markers associated with ASD. Elevated gene expression of FOXP1 might contribute to the pathogenesis of ASD.
Clinical trial registration
Autism; FOXP1; Expression microarray; Genetics; Lymphoblastoid cell line
Candidate genes associated with idiopathic forms of autism overlap with other disorders including fragile X syndrome. Our laboratory has previously shown reduction in fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) and increase in metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) in cerebellar vermis and superior frontal cortex (BA9) of individuals with autism.
In the current study we have investigated expression of four targets of FMRP and mGluR5 signaling - homer 1, amyloid beta A4 precursor protein (APP), ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1 (RAC1), and striatal-enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase (STEP) - in the cerebellar vermis and superior frontal cortex (BA9) via SDS-PAGE and western blotting. Data were analyzed based on stratification with respect to age (children and adolescents vs. adults), anatomic region of the brain (BA9 vs. cerebellar vermis), and impact of medications (children and adolescents on medications (n = 4) vs. total children and adolescents (n = 12); adults on medications (n = 6) vs. total adults (n = 12)).
There were significant increases in RAC1, APP 120 kDa and APP 80 kDa proteins in BA9 of children with autism vs. healthy controls. None of the same proteins were significantly affected in cerebellar vermis of children with autism. In BA9 of adults with autism there were significant increases in RAC1 and STEP 46 kDa and a significant decrease in homer 1 vs. controls. In the vermis of adult subjects with autism, RAC1 was significantly increased while APP 120, STEP 66 kDa, STEP 27 kDa, and homer 1 were significantly decreased when compared with healthy controls. No changes were observed in vermis of children with autism. There was a significant effect of anticonvulsant use on STEP 46 kDa/β-actin and a potential effect on homer 1/NSE, in BA9 of adults with autism. However, no other significant confound effects were observed in this study.
Our findings provide further evidence of abnormalities in FMRP and mGluR5 signaling partners in brains of individuals with autism and open the door to potential targeted treatments which could help ameliorate the symptoms of autism.
Autism; RAC1; Homer 1; APP; STEP; BA9; Cerebellar vermis; Children; Adults
The objective of this study was to examine differences in episodic memory retrieval between individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing (TD) individuals. Previous studies have shown that personality similarities between readers and characters facilitated reading comprehension. Highly extraverted participants read stories featuring extraverted protagonists more easily and judged the outcomes of such stories more rapidly than did less extraverted participants. Similarly, highly neurotic participants judged the outcomes of stories with neurotic protagonists more rapidly than did participants with low levels of neuroticism. However, the impact of the similarity effect on memory retrieval remains unclear. This study tested our ‘similarity hypothesis’, namely that memory retrieval is enhanced when readers with ASD and TD readers read stories featuring protagonists with ASD and with characteristics associated with TD individuals, respectively.
Eighteen Japanese individuals (one female) with high-functioning ASD (aged 17 to 40 years) and 17 age- and intelligence quotient (IQ)-matched Japanese (one female) TD participants (aged 22 to 40 years) read 24 stories; 12 stories featured protagonists with ASD characteristics, and the other 12 featured TD protagonists. Participants read a single sentence at a time and pressed a spacebar to advance to the next sentence. After reading all 24 stories, they were asked to complete a recognition task about the target sentence in each story.
To investigate episodic memory in ASD, we analyzed encoding based on the reading times for and readability of the stories and retrieval processes based on the accuracy of and response times for sentence recognition. Although the results showed no differences between ASD and TD groups in encoding processes, they did reveal inter-group differences in memory retrieval. Although individuals with ASD demonstrated the same level of accuracy as did TD individuals, their patterns of memory retrieval differed with respect to response times.
Individuals with ASD more effectively retrieved ASD-congruent than ASD-incongruent sentences, and TD individuals retrieved stories with TD more effectively than stories with ASD protagonists. Thus, similarity between reader and story character had different effects on memory retrieval in the ASD and TD groups.
High-functioning autism; Narrative comprehension; Recognition; Memory retrieval; Similarity
Adhesion molecules, such as platelet-endothelial adhesion molecule-1 (PECAM-1), platelet selectin (P-selectin), endothelial selectin (E-selectin), intracellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), are localized on the membranes of activated platelets and leukocytes and on the vascular endothelium. Recently, we measured serum levels of soluble (s) forms of adhesion molecules in adults,18 to 26 years old, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and observed low levels of sPECAM-1 and sP-selectin. A subsequent study showed a similar result in children two to four years old with ASD. However, information about school age (five to seventeen years old) ASD subjects is required to determine whether adhesion molecules are also reduced in individuals with ASD in this age range.
Twenty-two subjects with high-functioning ASD and 29 healthy age-matched controls were recruited. ELISA was used for sPECAM-1, and a suspension array system was used for sP-selectin, sE-selectin, sICAM-1 and sVCAM-1 measurements. We found that serum levels of sPECAM-1 (U = 91.0, P<0.0001 by Mann–Whitney U test) and sVCAM-1 (U = 168.0, P = 0.0042) were significantly lower in ASD subjects than in controls. Subsequently, we examined the correlations between serum levels of either sPECAM-1 or sVCAM-1 and clinical variables including Autism Diagnostic Interview - Revised subscores and our previous cytokine profile data from the same ASD subjects. However, we did not find any significant correlations between them.
The present results, taken together with previous results, suggest that sPECAM-1 may play a role in the generation and development of ASD, beginning in childhood and lasting until adulthood.
Autism; Human serum; Adhesion molecules; Platelet-endothelial adhesion molecule-1; Platelet selectin; Endothelial selectin; Intracellular adhesion molecule-1; Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1
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.
22q13 deletion syndrome, also known as Phelan-McDermid syndrome, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by intellectual disability, hypotonia, delayed or absent speech, and autistic features. SHANK3 has been identified as the critical gene in the neurological and behavioral aspects of this syndrome. The phenotype of SHANK3 deficiency has been described primarily from case studies, with limited evaluation of behavioral and cognitive deficits. The present study used a prospective design and inter-disciplinary clinical evaluations to assess patients with SHANK3 deficiency, with the goal of providing a comprehensive picture of the medical and behavioral profile of the syndrome.
A serially ascertained sample of patients with SHANK3 deficiency (n = 32) was evaluated by a team of child psychiatrists, neurologists, clinical geneticists, molecular geneticists and psychologists. Patients were evaluated for autism spectrum disorder using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-G.
Thirty participants with 22q13.3 deletions ranging in size from 101 kb to 8.45 Mb and two participants with de novo SHANK3 mutations were included. The sample was characterized by high rates of autism spectrum disorder: 27 (84%) met criteria for autism spectrum disorder and 24 (75%) for autistic disorder. Most patients (77%) exhibited severe to profound intellectual disability and only five (19%) used some words spontaneously to communicate. Dysmorphic features, hypotonia, gait disturbance, recurring upper respiratory tract infections, gastroesophageal reflux and seizures were also common. Analysis of genotype-phenotype correlations indicated that larger deletions were associated with increased levels of dysmorphic features, medical comorbidities and social communication impairments related to autism. Analyses of individuals with small deletions or point mutations identified features related to SHANK3 haploinsufficiency, including ASD, seizures and abnormal EEG, hypotonia, sleep disturbances, abnormal brain MRI, gastroesophageal reflux, and certain dysmorphic features.
This study supports findings from previous research on the severity of intellectual, motor, and speech impairments seen in SHANK3 deficiency, and highlights the prominence of autism spectrum disorder in the syndrome. Limitations of existing evaluation tools are discussed, along with the need for natural history studies to inform clinical monitoring and treatment development in SHANK3 deficiency.
22q13 deletion syndrome; Autism; Microarrays; Mutation; Phelan-McDermid syndrome; SHANK3
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are relatively common neurodevelopmental conditions whose biological basis has been incompletely determined. Several biochemical markers have been associated with ASDs, but there is still no laboratory test for these conditions.
We analyzed the metabolic profile of lymphoblastoid cell lines from 137 patients with neurodevelopmental disorders with or without ASDs and 78 normal individuals, using Biolog Phenotype MicroArrays.
Metabolic profiling of lymphoblastoid cells revealed that the 87 patients with ASD as a clinical feature, as compared to the 78 controls, exhibited on average reduced generation of NADH when tryptophan was the sole energy source. The results correlated with the behavioral traits associated with either syndromal or non-syndromal autism, independent of the genetic background of the individual. The low level of NADH generation in the presence of tryptophan was not observed in cell lines from non-ASD patients with intellectual disability, schizophrenia or conditions exhibiting several similarities with syndromal autism except for the behavioral traits. Analysis of a previous small gene expression study found abnormal levels for some genes involved in tryptophan metabolic pathways in 10 patients.
Tryptophan is a precursor of important compounds, such as serotonin, quinolinic acid, and kynurenic acid, which are involved in neurodevelopment and synaptogenesis. In addition, quinolinic acid is the structural precursor of NAD+, a critical energy carrier in mitochondria. Also, the serotonin branch of the tryptophan metabolic pathway generates NADH. Lastly, the levels of quinolinic and kynurenic acid are strongly influenced by the activity of the immune system. Therefore, decreased tryptophan metabolism may alter brain development, neuroimmune activity and mitochondrial function. Our finding of decreased tryptophan metabolism appears to provide a unifying biochemical basis for ASDs and perhaps an initial step in the development of a diagnostic assay for ASDs.
Autism; Biomarker; Tryptophan; Metabolism; Screening
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a common inherited form of intellectual disability caused by loss of function of the fragile X mental retardation protein. Recent animal studies suggest that upregulated downstream signaling by metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) might be an important mechanism for cognitive and behavioral abnormalities associated with FXS. However, mGluR5 density in human FXS remains unknown.
Receptor binding and protein expression were measured in the postmortem prefrontal cortex of 14 FXS patients or carriers and 17 age- and sex-matched control subjects without neurological disorders. In-vitro binding assays were performed using [3H]-labeled 3-methoxy-5-pyridin-2-ylethynylpyridine (MPEPy), a selective and high-affinity negative allosteric modulator of mGluR5, to measure receptor density and the radioligand’s dissociation constant, which is inversely proportional to affinity. Immunoblotting was also performed, to measure mGluR5 protein expression.
The mGluR5 density increased with marginal significance (+16%; P = 0.058) in the prefrontal cortex of FXS patients or carriers compared with matched healthy controls. No significant change in dissociation constant (-4%; P = 0.293) was observed. Immunoblotting found a significant elevation (+32%; P = 0.048) in mGluR5 protein expression.
Both mGluR5 binding density and protein expression were increased in the brains of FXS patients or carriers, but only expression was significantly different, which could be because of the small sample size and moderate variability. Another important caveat is that the effects of psychotropic medications on mGluR5 expression are largely unknown. Future in-vivo measurement of mGluR5 with positron emission tomography might characterize the role of this receptor in the pathophysiology of FXS and facilitate trials of mGluR5-oriented treatments for this disorder.
Fragile X mental retardation protein; Fragile X syndrome; Glutamate receptor; mGluR5; Receptor density; Receptor expression