Novel Autism Subtype-Dependent Genetic Variants Are Revealed by Quantitative Trait and Subphenotype Association Analyses of Published GWAS Data

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC, United States of America.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 04/2011; 6(4):e19067. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019067
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The heterogeneity of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has presented a significant challenge to genetic analyses. Even when associations with genetic variants have been identified, it has been difficult to associate them with a specific trait or characteristic of autism. Here, we report that quantitative trait analyses of ASD symptoms combined with case-control association analyses using distinct ASD subphenotypes identified on the basis of symptomatic profiles result in the identification of highly significant associations with 18 novel single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The symptom categories included deficits in language usage, non-verbal communication, social development, and play skills, as well as insistence on sameness or ritualistic behaviors. Ten of the trait-associated SNPs, or quantitative trait loci (QTL), were associated with more than one subtype, providing partial replication of the identified QTL. Notably, none of the novel SNPs is located within an exonic region, suggesting that these hereditary components of ASDs are more likely related to gene regulatory processes (or gene expression) than to structural or functional changes in gene products. Seven of the QTL reside within intergenic chromosomal regions associated with rare copy number variants that have been previously reported in autistic samples. Pathway analyses of the genes associated with the QTL identified in this study implicate neurological functions and disorders associated with autism pathophysiology. This study underscores the advantage of incorporating both quantitative traits as well as subphenotypes into large-scale genome-wide analyses of complex disorders.


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