Modeling the autism spectrum disorder phenotype

Neuroinformatics. 2014 Apr;12(2):291-305. doi: 10.1007/s12021-013-9211-4.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is highly heritable, and although there has been active research in an attempt to discover the genetic factors underlying ASD, diagnosis still depends heavily on behavioral assessments. Recently, several large-scale initiatives, including those of the Autism Consortium, have contributed to the collection of extensive information from families affected by ASD. Our goal was to develop an ontology that can be used 1) to provide improved access to the data collected by those who study ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and 2) to assess and compare the characteristics of the instruments that are used in the assessment of ASD. We analyzed two dozen instruments used to assess ASD, studying the nature of the questions asked and items assessed, the method of delivery, and the overall scope of the content. These data together with the extensive literature on ASD contributed to our iterative development of an ASD phenotype ontology. The final ontology comprises 283 concepts distributed across three high-level classes, 'Personal Traits', 'Social Competence', and 'Medical History'. The ontology is fully integrated with the Autism Consortium database, allowing researchers to pose ontology-based questions. The ontology also allows researchers to assess the degree of overlap among a set of candidate instruments according to several objective criteria. The ASD phenotype ontology has promise for use in research settings where extensive phenotypic data have been collected, allowing a concept-based approach to identifying behavioral features of importance and for correlating these with genotypic data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Ontologies*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / diagnosis*
  • Database Management Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Phenotype*