QTL replication and targeted association highlight the nerve growth factor gene for nonverbal communication deficits in autism spectrum disorders

Department of Human Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Molecular Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 14.5). 11/2011; 18(2). DOI: 10.1038/mp.2011.155
Source: PubMed


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has a heterogeneous etiology that is genetically complex. It is defined by deficits in communication and social skills and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. Genetic analyses of heritable quantitative traits that correlate with ASD may reduce heterogeneity. With this in mind, deficits in nonverbal communication (NVC) were quantified based on items from the Autism Diagnostic Interview Revised. Our previous analysis of 228 families from the Autism Genetics Research Exchange (AGRE) repository reported 5 potential quantitative trait loci (QTL). Here we report an NVC QTL replication study in an independent sample of 213 AGRE families. One QTL was replicated (P<0.0004). It was investigated using a targeted-association analysis of 476 haplotype blocks with 708 AGRE families using the Family Based Association Test (FBAT). Blocks in two QTL genes were associated with NVC with a P-value of 0.001. Three associated haplotype blocks were intronic to the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) gene (P=0.001, 0.001, 0.002), and one was intronic to KCND3 (P=0.001). Individual haplotypes within the associated blocks drove the associations (0.003, 0.0004 and 0.0002) for NGF and 0.0001 for KCND3. Using the same methods, these genes were tested for association with NVC in an independent sample of 1517 families from an Autism Genome Project (AGP). NVC was associated with a haplotype in an adjacent NGF block (P=0.0005) and one 46 kb away from the associated block in KCND3 (0.008). These analyses illustrate the value of QTL and targeted association studies for genetically complex disorders such as ASD. NGF is a promising risk gene for NVC deficits.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 22 November 2011; doi:10.1038/mp.2011.155.

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    • "As for a potential role for NGF signaling in neuropsychiatric disorders, a quantitative trait locus (QTL) in an NGF intron was recently found to be associated with nonverbal communication in ASD subjects [102]. Also, NGF levels are reduced in an animal model of Rett Syndrome and in the serum of medication-naïve patients with SZ [103], [104]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Schizophrenia (SZ) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are highly heritable neuropsychiatric disorders, although environmental factors, such as maternal immune activation (MIA), play a role as well. Cytokines mediate the effects of MIA on neurogenesis and behavior in animal models. However, MIA stimulators can also induce a febrile reaction, which could have independent effects on neurogenesis through heat shock (HS)-regulated cellular stress pathways. However, this has not been well-studied. To help understand the role of fever in MIA, we used a recently described model of human brain development in which induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) differentiate into 3-dimensional neuronal aggregates that resemble a first trimester telencephalon. RNA-seq was carried out on aggregates that were heat shocked at 39°C for 24 hours, along with their control partners maintained at 37°C. 186 genes showed significant differences in expression following HS (p<0.05), including known HS-inducible genes, as expected, as well as those coding for NGFR and a number of SZ and ASD candidates, including SMARCA2, DPP10, ARNT2, AHI1 and ZNF804A. The degree to which the expression of these genes decrease or increase during HS is similar to that found in copy loss and copy gain copy number variants (CNVs), although the effects of HS are likely to be transient. The dramatic effect on the expression of some SZ and ASD genes places HS, and perhaps other cellular stressors, into a common conceptual framework with disease-causing genetic variants. The findings also suggest that some candidate genes that are assumed to have a relatively limited impact on SZ and ASD pathogenesis based on a small number of positive genetic findings, such as SMARCA2 and ARNT2, may in fact have a much more substantial role in these disorders - as targets of common environmental stressors.
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    • "Our novel pathway analysis supports previously published data on alterations in pathways in ASD, such as oxidative stress [61], mTOR [38], Natural Killer cells [59,60], NGF, and monocyte pathways [112], as well as activation of microglia (macrophages in the periphery) [22,109]. However, this is the first study to suggest DAS/DEU occurs in these pathways and thus confirmation is needed in a future independent cohort. "
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    ABSTRACT: 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_NTCV versus ASD_LTCV. 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.
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