Autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex genetic disorders collectively characterized by impaired social interactions and language as well as repetitive and restrictive behaviors. Of the hundreds of genes implicated in ASD, those encoding proteins acting at neuronal synapses have been most characterized by candidate gene studies. However, recent unbiased genome-wide analyses have turned up a multitude of novel candidate genes encoding nuclear factors implicated in chromatin remodeling, histone demethylation, histone variants, and the recognition of DNA methylation. Furthermore, the chromatin landscape of the human genome has been shown to influence the location of de novo mutations observed in ASD as well as the landscape of DNA methylation underlying neurodevelopmental and synaptic processes. Understanding the interactions of nuclear chromatin proteins and DNA with signal transduction pathways and environmental influences in the developing brain will be critical to understanding the relevance of these ASD candidate genes and continued uncovering of the "roots" of autism etiology.
Keywords: environment; epigenetics; epigenomics; genetics; genomics; metabolism; neurodevelopment; nutrition.