Epigenetics of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Histone Deacetylases

Biol Psychiatry. 2022 Jun 1;91(11):922-933. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2021.11.021. Epub 2021 Dec 10.


The etiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains unknown, but gene-environment interactions, mediated through epigenetic mechanisms, are thought to be a key contributing factor. Prenatal environmental factors have been shown to be associated with both increased risk of ASD and altered histone deacetylases (HDACs) or acetylation levels. The relationship between epigenetic changes and gene expression in ASD suggests that alterations in histone acetylation, which lead to changes in gene transcription, may play a key role in ASD. Alterations in the acetylome have been demonstrated for several genes in ASD, including genes involved in synaptic function, neuronal excitability, and immune responses, which are mechanisms previously implicated in ASD. We review preclinical and clinical studies that investigated HDACs and autism-associated behaviors and discuss risk genes for ASD that code for proteins associated with HDACs. HDACs are also implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders with a known genetic etiology, such as 15q11-q13 duplication and Phelan-McDermid syndrome, which share clinical features and diagnostic comorbidities (e.g., epilepsy, anxiety, and intellectual disability) with ASD. Furthermore, we highlight factors that affect the behavioral phenotype of acetylome changes, including sensitive developmental periods and brain region specificity in the context of epigenetic programming.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Epigenetics; Gene-environment; Histone deacetylases; Neurodevelopment; Social behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / metabolism
  • Chromosome Disorders* / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Histone Deacetylases / genetics
  • Histone Deacetylases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / genetics


  • Histone Deacetylases