Gene Networks in Autism, Epilepsy and Schizophrenia

The discovery of integrated gene networks for autism and related disorders.

Despite considerable genetic heterogeneity underlying neurodevelopmental diseases, there is compelling evidence that many disease genes will map to a much smaller number of biological subnetworks.

We developed a computational method, termed MAGI (Merging Affected Genes into Integrated-networks), that simultaneously integrates protein-protein interaction and RNA-seq expression profiles during brain development to discover ‘modules’ enriched for de novo mutations in probands. We applied this method to recent exome sequencing of 1116 autism and intellectual disability patients discovering two distinct modules that differ in their properties and associated phenotypes.

The first module consists of 80 genes associated with Wnt, Notch, SWI/SNF and NCOR complexes and shows the highest expression early during embryonic development (8-16 post-conception weeks, pcw).

The second module consists of 24 genes associated with synaptic function, including long-term potentiation and calcium signaling with higher levels of postnatal expression.

Patients with de novo mutations in these modules are more significantly intellectually impaired and carry more severe missense mutations when compared to probands with de novo mutations outside of these modules.

We used our approach to define subsets of the network associated with higher functioning autism as well as greater severity with respect to IQ.

Finally, we applied MAGI independently to epilepsy and schizophrenia exome sequencing cohorts and find significant overlap as well as expansion of these modules suggesting a core set of integrated neurodevelopmental networks common to seemingly diverse human diseases.

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