Folate deficiency in the critical developmental period has been repeatedly associated with an increased risk of Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but the key pathophysiological mechanism has not yet been identified. In this work, we focused on identifying genes whose defect has similar consequences to folate depletion in the metabolic network. Within the Flux Balance Analysis (FBA) framework, we developed a method of blocked metabolites that allowed us to define the metabolic consequences of various gene defects and folate depletion. We identified six genes (GART, PFAS, PPAT, PAICS, ATIC, and ADSL) whose blocking results in nearly the same effect in the metabolic network as folate depletion. All of these genes form the purine biosynthetic pathway. We found that, just like folate depletion, the blockade of any of the six genes mentioned above results in a blockage of purine metabolism. We hypothesize that this can lead to decreased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and subsequently, an S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) pool in neurons in the case of rapid cell division. Based on our results, we consider the methylation defect to be a potential cause of ASD, due to the depletion of purine, and consequently S-adenosyl methionine (SAM), biosynthesis.
Keywords: ADSL; ASD; ATIC; Flux Balance Analysis (FBA); GART; PAICS; PFAS; PPAT; autism; blocked metabolite; cerebral folate deficiency; folate; metabolic modeling; purine.