Whole-exome sequencing and neurite outgrowth analysis in autism spectrum disorder

J Hum Genet. 2016 Mar;61(3):199-206. doi: 10.1038/jhg.2015.141. Epub 2015 Nov 19.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex group of clinically heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders with unclear etiology and pathogenesis. Genetic studies have identified numerous candidate genetic variants, including de novo mutated ASD-associated genes; however, the function of these de novo mutated genes remains unclear despite extensive bioinformatics resources. Accordingly, it is not easy to assign priorities to numerous candidate ASD-associated genes for further biological analysis. Here we developed a convenient system for identifying an experimental evidence-based annotation of candidate ASD-associated genes. We performed trio-based whole-exome sequencing in 30 sporadic cases of ASD and identified 37 genes with de novo single-nucleotide variations (SNVs). Among them, 5 of those 37 genes, POGZ, PLEKHA4, PCNX, PRKD2 and HERC1, have been previously reported as genes with de novo SNVs in ASD; and consultation with in silico databases showed that only HERC1 might be involved in neural function. To examine whether the identified gene products are involved in neural functions, we performed small hairpin RNA-based assays using neuroblastoma cell lines to assess neurite development. Knockdown of 8 out of the 14 examined genes significantly decreased neurite development (P<0.05, one-way analysis of variance), which was significantly higher than the number expected from gene ontology databases (P=0.010, Fisher's exact test). Our screening system may be valuable for identifying the neural functions of candidate ASD-associated genes for further analysis and a substantial portion of these genes with de novo SNVs might have roles in neuronal systems, although further detailed analysis might eliminate false positive genes from identified candidate ASD genes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • Cell Line
  • Exome*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurites*
  • Sequence Analysis*
  • Young Adult