Evidence of transgenerational effects on autism spectrum disorder using multigenerational space-time cluster detection

Int J Health Geogr. 2022 Oct 3;21(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12942-022-00313-4.


Background: Transgenerational epigenetic risks associated with complex health outcomes, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), have attracted increasing attention. Transgenerational environmental risk exposures with potential for epigenetic effects can be effectively identified using space-time clustering. Specifically applied to ancestors of individuals with disease outcomes, space-time clustering characterized for vulnerable developmental stages of growth can provide a measure of relative risk for disease outcomes in descendants.

Objectives: (1) Identify space-time clusters of ancestors with a descendent with a clinical ASD diagnosis and matched controls. (2) Identify developmental windows of ancestors with the highest relative risk for ASD in descendants. (3) Identify how the relative risk may vary through the maternal or paternal line.

Methods: Family pedigrees linked to residential locations of ASD cases in Utah have been used to identify space-time clusters of ancestors. Control family pedigrees of none-cases based on age and sex have been matched to cases 2:1. The data have been categorized by maternal or paternal lineage at birth, childhood, and adolescence. A total of 3957 children, both parents, and maternal and paternal grandparents were identified. Bernoulli space-time binomial relative risk (RR) scan statistic was used to identify clusters. Monte Carlo simulation was used for statistical significance testing.

Results: Twenty statistically significant clusters were identified. Thirteen increased RR (> 1.0) space-time clusters were identified from the maternal and paternal lines at a p-value < 0.05. The paternal grandparents carry the greatest RR (2.86-2.96) during birth and childhood in the 1950's-1960, which represent the smallest size clusters, and occur in urban areas. Additionally, seven statistically significant clusters with RR < 1 were relatively large in area, covering more rural areas of the state.

Conclusion: This study has identified statistically significant space-time clusters during critical developmental windows that are associated with ASD risk in descendants. The geographic space and time clusters family pedigrees with over 3 + generations, which we refer to as a person's geographic legacy, is a powerful tool for studying transgenerational effects that may be epigenetic in nature. Our novel use of space-time clustering can be applied to any disease where family pedigree data is available.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Space-time clusters; Transgenerational.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Parents
  • Risk