A universal challenge in genetic studies of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is determining whether a given DNA sequence alteration will manifest as disease. Among different population controls, we observed, for specific exons, an inverse correlation between exon expression level in brain and burden of rare missense mutations. For genes that harbor de novo mutations predicted to be deleterious, we found that specific critical exons were significantly enriched in individuals with ASD relative to their siblings without ASD (P < 1.13 × 10(-38); odds ratio (OR) = 2.40). Furthermore, our analysis of genes with high exonic expression in brain and low burden of rare mutations demonstrated enrichment for known ASD-associated genes (P < 3.40 × 10(-11); OR = 6.08) and ASD-relevant fragile-X protein targets (P < 2.91 × 10(-157); OR = 9.52). Our results suggest that brain-expressed exons under purifying selection should be prioritized in genotype-phenotype studies for ASD and related neurodevelopmental conditions.