Leveraging large genomic datasets to illuminate the pathobiology of autism spectrum disorders

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Jan;46(1):55-69. doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-0768-y. Epub 2020 Jul 15.


"Big data" approaches in the form of large-scale human genomic studies have led to striking advances in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) genetics. Similar to many other psychiatric syndromes, advances in genotyping technology, allowing for inexpensive genome-wide assays, has confirmed the contribution of polygenic inheritance involving common alleles of small effect, a handful of which have now been definitively identified. However, the past decade of gene discovery in ASD has been most notable for the application, in large family-based cohorts, of high-density microarray studies of submicroscopic chromosomal structure as well as high-throughput DNA sequencing-leading to the identification of an increasingly long list of risk regions and genes disrupted by rare, de novo germline mutations of large effect. This genomic architecture offers particular advantages for the illumination of biological mechanisms but also presents distinctive challenges. While the tremendous locus heterogeneity and functional pleiotropy associated with the more than 100 identified ASD-risk genes and regions is daunting, a growing armamentarium of comprehensive, large, foundational -omics databases, across species and capturing developmental trajectories, are increasingly contributing to a deeper understanding of ASD pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Humans