Over the past decade, mutations to more than 60 different genes have been linked with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including de novo mutations, which occur spontaneously and aren’t inherited. But much of autism still remains unexplained.
A new study of nearly 6,000 families implicates a hard-to-find category of de novo mutations: those that occur after conception, and therefore affect only a subset of cells.
2017 Study Abstract
We systematically analyzed postzygotic mutations (PZMs) in whole-exome sequences from the largest collection of trios (5,947) with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) available, including 282 unpublished trios, and performed resequencing using multiple independent technologies. We identified 7.5% of de novo mutations as PZMs, 83.3% of which were not described in previous studies. Damaging, nonsynonymous PZMs within critical exons of prenatally expressed genes were more common in ASD probands than controls (P < 1 × 10−6), and genes carrying these PZMs were enriched for expression in the amygdala (P = 5.4 × 10−3). Two genes (KLF16 and MSANTD2) were significantly enriched for PZMs genome-wide, and other PZMs involved genes (SCN2A, HNRNPU and SMARCA4) whose mutation is known to cause ASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders. PZMs constitute a significant proportion of de novo mutations and contribute importantly to ASD risk.