There is increasing evidence that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can arise from rare highly penetrant mutations and genomic imbalances. The rare nature of these variants, and the often differing orbits of clinical and research geneticists, can make it difficult to fully appreciate the extent to which we have made progress in understanding the genetic etiology of autism. In fact, there is a persistent view in the autism research community that there are only a modest number of autism loci known. We carried out an exhaustive review of the clinical genetics and research genetics literature in an attempt to collate all genes and recurrent genomic imbalances that have been implicated in the etiology of ASD. We provide data on 103 disease genes and 44 genomic loci reported in subjects with ASD or autistic behavior. These genes and loci have all been causally implicated in intellectual disability, indicating that these two neurodevelopmental disorders share common genetic bases. A genetic overlap between ASD and epilepsy is also apparent in many cases. Taken together, these findings clearly show that autism is not a single clinical entity but a behavioral manifestation of tens or perhaps hundreds of genetic and genomic disorders. Increased recognition of the etiological heterogeneity of ASD will greatly expand the number of target genes for neurobiological investigations and thereby provide additional avenues for the development of pathway-based pharmacotherapy. Finally, the data provide strong support for high-resolution DNA microarrays as well as whole-exome and whole-genome sequencing as critical approaches for identifying the genetic causes of ASDs.
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