T-Brain-1--A Potential Master Regulator in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Res. 2015 Aug;8(4):412-26. doi: 10.1002/aur.1456. Epub 2015 Jan 20.


T-Brain-1 (TBR1), a causative gene in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), encodes a brain-specific T-box transcription factor. It is therefore possible that TBR1 controls the expression of other autism risk factors. The downstream genes of TBR1 have been identified using microarray and promoter analyses. In this study, we annotated individual genes downstream of TBR1 and investigated any associations with ASDs through extensive literature searches. Of 124 TBR1 target genes, 23 were reported to be associated with ASDs. In addition, one gene, Kiaa0319, is a known causative gene for dyslexia, a disorder frequently associated with autism. A change in expression level in 10 of these 24 genes has been previously confirmed. We further validated the alteration of RNA expression levels of Kiaa0319, Baiap2, and Gad1 in Tbr1 deficient mice. Among these 24 genes, four transcription factors Auts2, Nfia, Nr4a2, and Sox5 were found, suggesting that TBR1 controls a transcriptional cascade relevant to autism pathogenesis. A further five of the 24 genes (Cd44, Cdh8, Cntn6, Gpc6, and Ntng1) encode membrane proteins that regulate cell adhesion and axonal outgrowth. These genes likely contribute to the role of TBR1 in regulation of neuronal migration and axonal extension. Besides, decreases in Grin2b expression and increases in Gad1 expression imply that neuronal activity may be aberrant in Tbr1 deficient mice. These analyses provide direction for future experiments to reveal the pathogenic mechanism of autism.

Keywords: Baiap2; Gad1; Kiaa0319; cell adhesion; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Mice
  • Microarray Analysis
  • T-Box Domain Proteins


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • Tbr1 protein, mouse