Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) affect 7-14% of all children in developed countries and are one of the leading causes of lifelong disability. Epigenetic modifications are poised at the interface between genes and environment and are predicted to reveal insight into NDD etiology. Whole-genome bisulfite sequencing was used to examine DNA cytosine methylation in 49 human cortex samples from 3 different NDDs (autism spectrum disorder, Rett syndrome, and Dup15q syndrome) and matched controls. Integration of methylation changes across NDDs with relevant genomic and genetic datasets revealed differentially methylated regions (DMRs) unique to each type of NDD but with shared regulatory functions in neurons and microglia. NDD DMRs were enriched within promoter regions and for transcription factor binding sites with identified methylation sensitivity. DMRs from all 3 disorders were enriched for ontologies related to nervous system development and genes with disrupted expression in brain from neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorders. Genes associated with NDD DMRs showed expression patterns indicating an important role for altered microglial function during brain development. These findings demonstrate an NDD epigenomic signature in human cortex that will aid in defining therapeutic targets and early biomarkers at the interface of genetic and environmental NDD risk factors.
Keywords: DNA methylation; autism spectrum disorders; epigenetics; microglia; neurodevelopmental disorders.
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