A convergent molecular network underlying autism and congenital heart disease

Cell Syst. 2021 Nov 17;12(11):1094-1107.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.cels.2021.07.009. Epub 2021 Aug 18.


Patients with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, have an elevated incidence of congenital heart disease, but the extent to which these conditions share molecular mechanisms remains unknown. Here, we use network genetics to identify a convergent molecular network underlying autism and congenital heart disease. This network is impacted by damaging genetic variants from both disorders in multiple independent cohorts of patients, pinpointing 101 genes with shared genetic risk. Network analysis also implicates risk genes for each disorder separately, including 27 previously unidentified genes for autism and 46 for congenital heart disease. For 7 genes with shared risk, we create engineered disruptions in Xenopus tropicalis, confirming both heart and brain developmental abnormalities. The network includes a family of ion channels, such as the sodium transporter SCN2A, linking these functions to early heart and brain development. This study provides a road map for identifying risk genes and pathways involved in co-morbid conditions.

Keywords: Subject areas: systems biology; autism; congenital heart disease; network genetics.