Deficiency of autism risk factor ASH1L in prefrontal cortex induces epigenetic aberrations and seizures

Nat Commun. 2021 Nov 15;12(1):6589. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-26972-8.


ASH1L, a histone methyltransferase, is identified as a top-ranking risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, little is known about the biological mechanisms underlying the link of ASH1L haploinsufficiency to ASD. Here we show that ASH1L expression and H3K4me3 level are significantly decreased in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of postmortem tissues from ASD patients. Knockdown of Ash1L in PFC of juvenile mice induces the downregulation of risk genes associated with ASD, intellectual disability (ID) and epilepsy. These downregulated genes are enriched in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic function and have decreased H3K4me3 occupancy at their promoters. Furthermore, Ash1L deficiency in PFC causes the diminished GABAergic inhibition, enhanced glutamatergic transmission, and elevated PFC pyramidal neuronal excitability, which is associated with severe seizures and early mortality. Chemogenetic inhibition of PFC pyramidal neuronal activity, combined with the administration of GABA enhancer diazepam, rescues PFC synaptic imbalance and seizures, but not autistic social deficits or anxiety-like behaviors. These results have revealed the critical role of ASH1L in regulating synaptic gene expression and seizures, which provides insights into treatment strategies for ASH1L-associated brain diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / deficiency
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Seizures / metabolism*
  • Seizures / physiopathology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Histones
  • histone H3 trimethyl Lys4
  • ASH1L protein, human
  • Ash1l protein, mouse
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase