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1.  Plasma cytokine profiling in sibling pairs discordant for autism spectrum disorder 
Converging lines of evidence point to the existence of immune dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which could directly affect several key neurodevelopmental processes. Previous studies have shown higher cytokine levels in patients with autism compared with matched controls or subjects with other developmental disorders. In the current study, we used plasma-cytokine profiling for 25 discordant sibling pairs to evaluate whether these alterations occur within families with ASD.
Plasma-cytokine profiling was conducted using an array-based multiplex sandwich ELISA for simultaneous quantitative measurement of 40 unique targets. We also analyzed the correlations between cytokine levels and clinically relevant quantitative traits (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale in Autism (VABS) composite score, Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) total T score, head circumference, and full intelligence quotient (IQ)). In addition, because of the high phenotypic heterogeneity of ASD, we defined four subgroups of subjects (those who were non-verbal, those with gastrointestinal issues, those with regressive autism, and those with a history of allergies), which encompass common and/or recurrent endophenotypes in ASD, and tested the cytokine levels in each group.
None of the measured parameters showed significant differences between children with ASD and their related typically developing siblings. However, specific target levels did correlate with quantitative clinical traits, and these were significantly different when the ASD subgroups were analyzed. It is notable that these differences seem to be attributable to a predisposing immunogenetic background, as no other significant differences were noticed between discordant sibling pairs. Interleukin-1β appears to be the cytokine most involved in quantitative traits and clinical subgroups of ASD.
In the present study, we found a lack of significant differences in plasma-cytokine levels between children with ASD and in their related non-autistic siblings. Thus, our results support the evidence that the immune profiles of children with autism do not differ from their typically developing siblings. However, the significant association of cytokine levels with the quantitative traits and the clinical subgroups analyzed suggests that altered immune responses may affect core feature of ASD.
PMCID: PMC3616926  PMID: 23497090
2.  2p15–p16.1 microdeletion syndrome: molecular characterization and association of the OTX1 and XPO1 genes with autism spectrum disorders 
European Journal of Human Genetics  2011;19(12):1264-1270.
Reports of unrelated individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and similar clinical features having overlapping de novo interstitial deletions at 2p15–p16.1 suggest that this region harbors a gene(s) important to the development of autism. We molecularly characterized two such deletions, selecting two genes in this region, exportin 1 (XPO1) and orthodenticle homolog 1 (OTX1) for association studies in three North American cohorts (Autism Spectrum Disorder – Canadian American Research Consortium (ASD–CARC), New York, and Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE)) and one Italian cohort (Società Italiana per la Ricerca e la Formazione sull'Autismo (SIRFA)) of families with ASD. In XPO1, rs6735330 was associated with autism in all four cohorts (P<0.05), being significant in ASD–CARC cohorts (P-value following false discovery rate correction for multiple testing (PFDR)=1.29 × 10−5), the AGRE cohort (PFDR=0.0011) and the combined families (PFDR=2.34 × 10−9). Similarly, in OTX1, rs2018650 and rs13000344 were associated with autism in ASD–CARC cohorts (PFDR=8.65 × 10−7 and 6.07 × 105, respectively), AGRE cohort (PFDR=0.0034 and 0.015, respectively) and the combined families (PFDR=2.34 × 10−9 and 0.00017, respectively); associations were marginal or insignificant in the New York and SIRFA cohorts. A significant association (PFDR=2.63 × 10−11) was found for the rs2018650G–rs13000344C haplotype. The above three SNPs were associated with severity of social interaction and verbal communication deficits and repetitive behaviors (P-values <0.01). No additional deletions were identified following screening of 798 ASD individuals. Our results indicate that deletion 2p15–p16.1 is not commonly associated with idiopathic ASD, but represents a novel contiguous gene syndrome associated with a constellation of phenotypic features (autism, intellectual disability, craniofacial/CNS dysmorphology), and that XPO1 and OXT1 may contribute to ASD in 2p15–p16.1 deletion cases and non-deletion cases of ASD mapping to this chromosome region.
PMCID: PMC3230356  PMID: 21750575
autism; real-time quantitative PCR; array comparative genomic hybridization; exportin 1 gene; orthodenticle homolog 1 gene
3.  Autism: Where Genetics Meets the Immune System 
Autism Research and Treatment  2012;2012:486359.
PMCID: PMC3440848  PMID: 22988503
4.  Immune transcriptome alterations in the temporal cortex of subjects with autism 
Neurobiology of disease  2008;30(3):303-311.
Autism is a severe disorder that involves both genetic and environmental factors. Expression profiling of the superior temporal gyrus of six autistic subjects and matched controls revealed increased transcript levels of many immune system related genes. We also noticed changes in transcripts related to cell communication, differentiation, cell cycle regulation and chaperone systems. Critical expression changes were confirmed by qPCR (BCL6, CHI3L1, CYR61, IFI16, IFITM3, MAP2K3, PTDSR, RFX4, SPP1, RELN, NOTCH2, RIT1, SFN, GADD45B, HSPA6, HSPB8 and SERPINH1). Overall, these expression patterns appear to be more associated with the late recovery phase of autoimmune brain disorders, than with the innate immune response characteristic of neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, a variance-based analysis revealed much greater transcript variability in brains from autistic subjects compared to the control group, suggesting that these genes may represent autism susceptibility genes and should be assessed in follow-up genetic studies.
PMCID: PMC2693090  PMID: 18378158
DNA microarray; gene expression; transcriptome; autism; qPCR; post mortem; temporal cortex
5.  Genetic Evidence Implicating Multiple Genes in the MET Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder 
A functional promoter variant of the gene encoding the MET receptor tyrosine kinase alters SP1 and SUB1 transcription factor binding, and is associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Recent analyses of postmortem cerebral cortex from ASD patients revealed altered expression of MET protein and three transcripts encoding proteins that regulate MET signaling, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (PLAUR) and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (SERPINE1). To address potential risk conferred by multiple genes in the MET signaling pathway, we screened all exons and 5′ promoter regions for variants in the five genes encoding proteins that regulate MET expression and activity. Identified variants were genotyped in 664 families (2,712 individuals including 1,228 with ASD) and 312 unrelated controls. Replicating our initial findings, family-based association test (FBAT) analyses demonstrated that the MET promoter variant rs1858830 C allele was associated with ASD in 101 new families (P=0.033). Two other genes in the MET signaling pathway also may confer risk. A haplotype of the SERPINE1 gene exhibited significant association. In addition, the PLAUR promoter variant rs344781 T allele was associated with ASD by both FBAT (P=0.006) and case-control analyses (P=0.007). The PLAUR promoter rs344781 relative risk was 1.93 (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 1.12−3.31) for genotype TT and 2.42 (95% CI: 1.38−4.25) for genotype CT compared to genotype CC. Gene-gene interaction analyses suggested a significant interaction between MET and PLAUR. These data further support our hypothesis that genetic susceptibility impacting multiple components of the MET signaling pathway contributes to ASD risk.
PMCID: PMC2678909  PMID: 19360663
Genetic; Association; Plasminogen; PLAUR; uPAR; SERPINE1; Brain; Cerebral Cortex
6.  Methodological factors influencing measurement and processing of plasma reelin in humans 
BMC Biochemistry  2003;4:9.
Reelin, intensively studied as an extracellular protein that regulates brain development, is also expressed in a variety of tissues and a circulating pool of reelin exists in adult mammals. Here we describe the methodological and biological foundation for carrying out and interpreting clinical studies of plasma reelin.
Reelin in human plasma was sensitive to proteolysis, freeze-thawing and heating during long-term storage, sample preparation and electrophoresis. Reelin in plasma was a dimer under denaturing conditions. Boiling of samples resulted in laddering, suggesting that each of the 8 repeats expressed in reelin contains a heat-labile covalent bond susceptible to breakage. Urinary-type and tissue-type plasminogen activator converted reelin to a discrete 310 kDa fragment co-migrating with the major immunoreactive reelin fragment seen in plasma and also detected in brain. (In contrast, plasmin produced a spectrum of smaller unstable reelin fragments.) We examined archival plasma of 10 pairs of age-matched male individuals differing in repeat length of a CGG repeat polymorphism of the 5'-untranslated region of the reelin gene (both alleles < 11 repeats vs. one allele having >11 repeats). Reelin 310 kDa band content was lower in subjects having the long repeats in all 10 pairs, by 25% on average (p < 0.001). In contrast, no difference was noted for amyloid precursor protein.
Our studies indicate the need for caution in measuring reelin in archival blood samples, and suggest that assays of plasma reelin should take into account three dimensions that might vary independently: a) the total amount of reelin protein; b) the relative amounts of reelin vs. its proteolytic processing products; and c) the aggregation state of the native protein. Reelin-plasminogen activator interactions may affect their roles in synaptic plasticity. Our results also suggest that the human CGG repeat polymorphism affects reelin gene expression, and may affect susceptibility to human disease.
PMCID: PMC200967  PMID: 12959647
reelin; autism; plasminogen activator; plasmin; CGG repeats
7.  Consensus Paper: Pathological Role of the Cerebellum in Autism 
Cerebellum (London, England)  2012;11(3):777-807.
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.
PMCID: PMC3677555  PMID: 22370873
cerebellum; autism
8.  Age-Dependent Decrease and Alternative Splicing of Methionine Synthase mRNA in Human Cerebral Cortex and an Accelerated Decrease in Autism 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56927.
The folate and vitamin B12-dependent enzyme methionine synthase (MS) is highly sensitive to cellular oxidative status, and lower MS activity increases production of the antioxidant glutathione, while simultaneously decreasing more than 200 methylation reactions, broadly affecting metabolic activity. MS mRNA levels in postmortem human cortex from subjects across the lifespan were measured and a dramatic progressive biphasic decrease of more than 400-fold from 28 weeks of gestation to 84 years was observed. Further analysis revealed alternative splicing of MS mRNA, including deletion of folate-binding domain exons and age-dependent deletion of exons from the cap domain, which protects vitamin B12 (cobalamin) from oxidation. Although three species of MS were evident at the protein level, corresponding to full-length and alternatively spliced mRNA transcripts, decreasing mRNA levels across the lifespan were not associated with significant changes in MS protein or methionine levels. MS mRNA levels were significantly lower in autistic subjects, especially at younger ages, and this decrease was replicated in cultured human neuronal cells by treatment with TNF-α, whose CSF levels are elevated in autism. These novel findings suggest that rather than serving as a housekeeping enzyme, MS has a broad and dynamic role in coordinating metabolism in the brain during development and aging. Factors adversely affecting MS activity, such as oxidative stress, can be a source of risk for neurological disorders across the lifespan via their impact on methylation reactions, including epigenetic regulation of gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3577685  PMID: 23437274
9.  Family-based association study of ITGB3 in autism spectrum disorder and its endophenotypes 
The integrin-β 3 gene (ITGB3), located on human chromosome 17q21.3, was previously identified as a quantitative trait locus (QTL) for 5-HT blood levels and has been implicated as a candidate gene for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We performed a family-based association study in 281 simplex and 12 multiplex Caucasian families. ITGB3 haplotypes are significantly associated with autism (HBAT, global P=0.038). Haplotype H3 is largely over-transmitted to the affected offspring and doubles the risk of an ASD diagnosis (HBAT P=0.005; odds ratio (OR)=2.000), at the expense of haplotype H1, which is under-transmitted (HBAT P=0.018; OR=0.725). These two common haplotypes differ only at rs12603582 located in intron 11, which reaches a P-value of 0.072 in single-marker FBAT analyses. Interestingly, rs12603582 is strongly associated with pre-term delivery in our ASD patients (P=0.008). On the other hand, it is SNP rs2317385, located at the 5′ end of the gene, that significantly affects 5-HT blood levels (Mann–Whitney U-test, P=0.001; multiple regression analysis, P=0.010). No gene–gene interaction between ITGB3 and SLC6A4 has been detected. In conclusion, we identify a significant association between a common ITGB3 haplotype and ASD. Distinct markers, located toward the 5′ and 3′ ends of the gene, seemingly modulate 5-HT blood levels and autism liability, respectively. Our results also raise interest into ITGB3 influences on feto–maternal immune interactions in autism.
PMCID: PMC3062005  PMID: 21102624
autism; integrin-β 3; quantitative trait locus; SLC6A4; serotonin; serotonin transporter
10.  Lack of Infection with XMRV or Other MLV-Related Viruses in Blood, Post-Mortem Brains and Paternal Gametes of Autistic Individuals 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16609.
Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by impaired language, communication and social skills, as well as by repetitive and stereotypic patterns of behavior. Many autistic subjects display a dysregulation of the immune system which is compatible with an unresolved viral infection with prenatal onset, potentially due to vertical viral transmission. Recently, the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) has been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and in prostate cancer by several, though not all studies.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We assessed whether XMRV or other murine leukemia virus (MLV)-related viruses are involved in autistic disorder. Using nested PCR targeted to gag genomic sequences, we screened DNA samples from: (i) peripheral blood of 102 ASD patients and 97 controls, (ii) post-mortem brain samples of 20 ASD patients and 17 sex- and age-matched controls, (iii) semen samples of 11 fathers of ASD children, 25 infertile individuals and 7 fertile controls. No XMRV gag DNA sequences were detected, whereas peripheral blood samples of 3/97 (3.1%) controls were positive for MLV.
No MLV-related virus was detected in blood, brain, and semen samples of ASD patients or fathers. Hence infection with XMRV or other MLV-related viruses is unlikely to contribute to autism pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3043069  PMID: 21373179
11.  Candidate gene study of HOXB1 in autism spectrum disorder 
Molecular Autism  2010;1:9.
HOXB1 plays a major role in brainstem morphogenesis and could partly determine the cranial circumference in conjunction with HOXA1. In our sample, HOXA1 alleles significantly influence head growth rates both in autistic patients and in population controls. An initial report, suggesting that HOXB1 could confer autism vulnerability in interaction with HOXA1, was not confirmed by five small association studies.
Our sample includes 269 autistic individuals, belonging to 219 simplex and 28 multiplex families. A mutational analysis of the two exons and flanking intronic sequences of the HOXB1 gene was carried out in 84 autistic patients by denaturing high performance liquid chromatography, followed by DNA sequencing. Identified rare variants were then searched by a restriction analysis in 236 autistic patients and 325-345 controls. Case-control and family-based association studies were performed on two common variants in 169 Italian patients versus 184 Italian controls and in 247 trios.
We identified three common polymorphisms, rs72338773 [c.82insACAGCGCCC (INS/nINS)], rs12939811 [c.309A>T (Q103H)], and rs7207109 [c.450G>A (A150A)] and three rare variants, namely IVS1+63G>A, rs35115415 [c.702G>A (V234V)] and c.872_873delinsAA (S291N). SNPs rs72338773 and rs12939811 were not associated with autism, using either a case-control (alleles, exact P = 0.13) or a family-based design [transmission/disequilibrium test (TDT)χ2 = 1.774, P = 0.183]. The rare variants, all inherited from one of the parents, were present in two Italian and in two Caucasian-American families. Autistic probands in two families surprisingly inherited a distinct rare variant from each parent. The IVS1+63A allele was present in 3/690 control chromosomes, whereas rare alleles at rs35115415 and c.872_873delinsAA (S291N) were not found in 662 and 650 control chromosomes, respectively. The INS-T309 allele influenced head size, but its effect appears more modest and shows no interaction with HOXA1 alleles. The INS-T309 allele is also associated with more severe stereotypic behaviours, according to ADI-R scores (N = 60 patients, P < 0.01).
HOXB1 mutations do not represent a common cause of autism, nor do HOXB1 common variants play important roles in autism vulnerability. HOXB1 provides minor, albeit detectable contributions to head circumference in autistic patients, with HOXA1 displaying more prominent effects. HOXB1 variants may modulate the clinical phenotype, especially in the area of stereotypic behaviours.
PMCID: PMC2913946  PMID: 20678259
12.  Case-control and family-based association studies of candidate genes in autistic disorder and its endophenotypes: TPH2 and GLO1 
BMC Medical Genetics  2007;8:11.
The TPH2 gene encodes the enzyme responsible for serotonin (5-HT) synthesis in the Central Nervous System (CNS). Stereotypic and repetitive behaviors are influenced by 5-HT, and initial studies report an association of TPH2 alleles with childhood-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and with autism. GLO1 encodes glyoxalase I, the enzyme which detoxifies α-oxoaldehydes such as methylglyoxal in all living cells. The A111E GLO1 protein variant, encoded by SNP C419A, was identifed in autopsied autistic brains and proposed to act as an autism susceptibility factor. Hyperserotoninemia, macrocephaly, and peptiduria represent some of the best-characterized endophenotypes in autism research.
Family-based and case-control association studies were performed on clinical samples drawn from 312 simplex and 29 multiplex families including 371 non-syndromic autistic patients and 156 unaffected siblings, as well as on 171 controls. TPH2 SNPs rs4570625 and rs4565946 were genotyped using the TaqMan assay; GLO1 SNP C419A was genotyped by PCR and allele-specific restriction digest. Family-based association analyses were performed by TDT and FBAT, case-control by χ2, endophenotypic analyses for 5-HT blood levels, cranial circumference and urinary peptide excretion rates by ANOVA and FBAT.
TPH2 alleles and haplotypes are not significantly associated in our sample with autism (rs4570625: TDT P = 0.27, and FBAT P = 0.35; rs4565946: TDT P = 0.45, and FBAT P = 0.55; haplotype P = 0.84), with any endophenotype, or with the presence/absence of prominent repetitive and stereotyped behaviors (motor stereotypies: P = 0.81 and 0.84, verbal stereotypies: P = 0.38 and 0.73 for rs4570625 and rs4565946, respectively). Also GLO1 alleles display no association with autism (191 patients vs 171 controls, P = 0.36; TDT P = 0.79, and FBAT P = 0.37), but unaffected siblings seemingly carry a protective gene variant marked by the A419 allele (TDT P < 0.05; patients vs unaffected siblings TDT and FBAT P < 0.00001).
TPH2 gene variants are unlikely to contribute to autism or to the presence/absence of prominent repetitive behaviors in our sample, although an influence on the intensity of these behaviors in autism cannot be excluded. GLO1 gene variants do not confer autism vulnerability in this sample, but allele A419 apparently carries a protective effect, spurring interest into functional correlates of the C419A SNP.
PMCID: PMC1851007  PMID: 17346350

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