Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Genome-wide study of autism published in Nature

09.10.2009
Combining family- and population-based approaches sheds new light on the potential roles of both common and rare forms of human genetic variation

In one of the first studies of its kind, an international team of researchers has uncovered a single-letter change in the genetic code that is associated with autism.

The finding, published in the October 8 issue of the journal Nature, implicates a neuronal gene not previously tied to the disorder and more broadly, underscores a role for common DNA variation. In addition, the new research highlights two other regions of the genome, which are likely to contain rare genetic differences that may also influence autism risk.

"These discoveries are an important step forward, but just one of many that are needed to fully dissect the complex genetics of this disorder, " said Mark Daly, one of the study's senior authors, a senior associate member at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and an associate professor at the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). "The genomic regions we've identified help shed additional light on the biology of autism and point to areas that should be prioritized for further study."

"The biggest challenge to finding the genes that contribute to autism is having a large and well studied group of patients and their family members, both for primary discovery of genes and to test and verify the discovery candidates," said Aravinda Chakravarti, professor of medicine, pediatrics and molecular biology and genetics at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and one of the study's senior authors. "This latest finding would not have been possible without these many research groups and consortia pooling together their patient resources. Of course, they would not have been possible without the genomic scanning technologies either."

Autism is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social, behavioral and communication abilities. Compared to other complex diseases, which are caused by a complicated mix of genetic, environmental and other factors, autism is highly heritable — roughly 90% of the disorder is thought to be genetic in origin. Yet the majority of autism cases cannot be attributed to known inherited causes.

Modern approaches that harness genome-scale technologies have begun to yield some insights into autism and its genetic underpinnings. However, the relative importance of common genetic variants, which are generally present in the human population at a frequency of about 5%, as well as other forms of genetic variation, remains an unresolved question.

To more deeply probe autism's complex genetic architecture, a large multinational collaboration led by researchers at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere devised a two-pronged, genome-scale approach. The first component makes use of a family-based method (called "linkage") that analyzes DNA from autism patients and their family members to detect portions of the genome that harbor rare but high-impact DNA variants. The second harnesses a population-based method (known as "association") that examines DNA from unrelated individuals and can expose common genetic variants associated with autism and which tend to exert more modest effects.

"Given the genetic complexity of autism, it's unlikely that a single method or type of genomic variation is going to provide us with a complete picture," said Daly. "Our approach of combining multiple complementary methods aims to meet this critical challenge."

For their initial studies, the researchers examined roughly half a million genetic markers in more than 1,000 families from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) and the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) repositories. Follow-up analyses were conducted in collaboration with the Autism Genome Project as well as other international groups. "We are deeply grateful to all of the patients and their families who made this work possible," said Daly.

The researchers' results highlight three regions of the human genome. These include parts of chromosomes 6 and 20, the top-scoring regions to emerge from the family-based linkage studies. Although further research is needed localize the exact causal changes and genes within these regions that contribute to autism, these findings can help guide future work.

The other major result, this one flowing from the population-based analyses, is a single-letter change in the genetic code known as a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced "snip"). This common variant lies on chromosome 5 near a gene known as semaphorin 5A, which is thought to help guide the growth of neurons and their long projections called axons. Notably, the activity or "expression" of this gene appears to be reduced in the brains of autism patients compared to those without the disorder.

"These genetic findings give us important new leads to understand what's different in the developing autistic brain compared with typical neurodevelopment. We can now begin to explore the pathways in which this novel gene acts, expanding our knowledge of autism's biology," said co-lead author Lauren Weiss, a former postdoctoral fellow who collaborated with Daly and his colleagues at MGH and the Broad Institute. Weiss is now an assistant professor of psychiatry and human genetics at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Although the Nature paper identifies a handful of new genes and genomic regions, the researchers emphasize that the findings are just one piece of a very large — and mostly unfinished — puzzle. Future studies involving larger patient cohorts and higher resolution genomic technologies, such as next-generation DNA sequencing, promise to yield a deeper understanding of autism and its complex genetic roots.

This work was supported by the Autism Consortium, the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, NARSAD, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Simons Foundation as well as other funding agencies.

Paper cited:

Weiss LA, Arking DE, The Gene Discovery Project of Johns Hopkins & the Autism Consortium. A genome-wide linkage and association scan reveals novel loci for autism. Nature DOI:10.1038/nature08490.

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was founded in 2003 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine with new genome-based knowledge. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community.

Founded by MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to www.broadinstitute.org.

About Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $500 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

Nicole Davis | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.broadinstitute.org
http://www.massgeneral.org

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>