A higher mutational burden in females supports a "female protective model" in neurodevelopmental disorders

Am J Hum Genet. 2014 Mar 6;94(3):415-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.02.001. Epub 2014 Feb 27.


Increased male prevalence has been repeatedly reported in several neurodevelopmental disorders (NDs), leading to the concept of a "female protective model." We investigated the molecular basis of this sex-based difference in liability and demonstrated an excess of deleterious autosomal copy-number variants (CNVs) in females compared to males (odds ratio [OR] = 1.46, p = 8 × 10(-10)) in a cohort of 15,585 probands ascertained for NDs. In an independent autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cohort of 762 families, we found a 3-fold increase in deleterious autosomal CNVs (p = 7 × 10(-4)) and an excess of private deleterious single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) in female compared to male probands (OR = 1.34, p = 0.03). We also showed that the deleteriousness of autosomal SNVs was significantly higher in female probands (p = 0.0006). A similar bias was observed in parents of probands ascertained for NDs. Deleterious CNVs (>400 kb) were maternally inherited more often (up to 64%, p = 10(-15)) than small CNVs < 400 kb (OR = 1.45, p = 0.0003). In the ASD cohort, increased maternal transmission was also observed for deleterious CNVs and SNVs. Although ASD females showed higher mutational burden and lower cognition, the excess mutational burden remained, even after adjustment for those cognitive differences. These results strongly suggest that females have an increased etiological burden unlinked to rare deleterious variants on the X chromosome. Carefully phenotyped and genotyped cohorts will be required for identifying the symptoms, which show gender-specific liability to mutational burden.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial
  • Cognition Disorders / genetics
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Developmental Disabilities / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Markov Chains
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult