Theses Doctoral

Mechanisms Underlying Phenotypic Heterogeneity in Simplex Autism Spectrum Disorders

Chiang, Andrew Hann

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of related neurodevelopmental diseases displaying significant genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity. Despite recent progress in ASD genetics, the nature of phenotypic heterogeneity across probands is not well understood. Notably, likely gene-disrupting (LGD) de novo mutations affecting the same gene often result in substantially different ASD phenotypes. We find that truncating mutations in a gene can result in a range of relatively mild decreases (15-30%) in gene expression due to nonsense-mediated decay (NMD), and show that more severe autism phenotypes are associated with greater decreases in expression. We also find that each gene with recurrent ASD mutations can be described by a parameter, phenotype dosage sensitivity (PDS), which characterizes the relationship between changes in a gene’s dosage and changes in a given phenotype. Using simple linear models, we show that changes in gene dosage account for a substantial fraction of phenotypic variability in ASD. We further observe that LGD mutations affecting the same exon frequently lead to strikingly similar phenotypes in unrelated ASD probands. These patterns are observed for two independent proband cohorts and multiple important ASD-associated phenotypes. The observed phenotypic similarities are likely mediated by similar changes in gene dosage and similar perturbations to the relative expression of splicing isoforms. We also identify patterns of developmental and cell type-specific expression that additionally contribute to the variability of several autism phenotypes.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biomedical Informatics
Thesis Advisors
Vitkup, Dennis
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 11, 2021