The genetics underlying the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is complex and remains poorly understood. Previous work has demonstrated an important role for structural variation in a subset of cases, but has lacked the resolution necessary to move beyond detection of large regions of potential interest to identification of individual genes. To pinpoint genes likely to contribute to ASD etiology, we performed high density genotyping in 912 multiplex families from the Autism Genetics Resource Exchange (AGRE) collection and contrasted results to those obtained for 1,488 healthy controls. Through prioritization of exonic deletions (eDels), exonic duplications (eDups), and whole gene duplication events (gDups), we identified more than 150 loci harboring rare variants in multiple unrelated probands, but no controls. Importantly, 27 of these were confirmed on examination of an independent replication cohort comprised of 859 cases and an additional 1,051 controls. Rare variants at known loci, including exonic deletions at NRXN1 and whole gene duplications encompassing UBE3A and several other genes in the 15q11–q13 region, were observed in the course of these analyses. Strong support was likewise observed for previously unreported genes such as BZRAP1, an adaptor molecule known to regulate synaptic transmission, with eDels or eDups observed in twelve unrelated cases but no controls (p = 2.3×10−5). Less is known about MDGA2, likewise observed to be case-specific (p = 1.3×10−4). But, it is notable that the encoded protein shows an unexpectedly high similarity to Contactin 4 (BLAST E-value = 3×10−39), which has also been linked to disease. That hundreds of distinct rare variants were each seen only once further highlights complexity in the ASDs and points to the continued need for larger cohorts.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are common neurodevelopmental syndromes with a strong genetic component. ASDs are characterized by disturbances in social behavior, impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as repetitive behaviors and/or a restricted range of interests. To identify genes likely to contribute to ASD etiology, we performed high density genotyping in 912 multiplex families from the Autism Genetics Resource Exchange (AGRE) collection and contrasted results to those obtained for 1,488 healthy controls. To enrich for variants most likely to interfere with gene function, we restricted our analyses to deletions and gains encompassing exons. Of the many genomic regions highlighted, 27 were seen to harbor rare variants in cases and not controls, both in the first phase of our analysis, and also in an independent replication cohort comprised of 859 cases and 1,051 controls. More work in a larger number of individuals will be required to determine which of the rare alleles highlighted here are indeed related to the ASDs and how they act to shape risk.