Multiple Recurrent De Novo CNVs, including Duplications of the 7q11.23 Williams Syndrome Region, are Strongly Associated with Autism

Published May 1, 2011 in Pediatrics

A recent collaborative study identified six genetic mutations that are strongly associated with autism spectrum disorder, including an area of DNA that likely holds clues to understanding the nature of human social behavior. The researchers estimate that these mutations represent only a few of the hundreds of spontaneously arising variants that are likely to increase autism risk. Using gene chip or microarray technology, the researchers analyzed the genomes of over 1,100 families with a single child on the autism spectrum, and compared the results of affected and unaffected siblings. The DNA samples analyzed in the study were part of the Simons Simplex Collection. The scan revealed a variety of copy number variants (CNVs) — genetic mutations that can range from micro-deletions and duplications to large sequences of missing or additional DNA. Notably, one of the non-inherited or de novo CNVs was located on a genetic region linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome, a rare disorder that causes people to be extremely social, overly trusting, and highly empathetic.While loss of DNA from the area results in Williams-Beuren syndrome, gain of extra DNA in this area is associated with autism, which is marked by difficulty with social interaction and lack of empathy. This region's connection with both disorders suggests its importance in understanding the nature of the social brain. The study also supports earlier findings of higher rates of de novo CNVs in people with autism compared to their unaffected siblings. Uncovering the genetic basis of autism is critical to understanding the neurobiology underlying the disorder and may aid in developing targeted treatment approaches for different subtypes.

–IACC 2011 Summary of Advances in ASD Research

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