In individuals with Williams syndrome, dysregulation of methylation in non-coding regions of neuronal and oligodendrocyte DNA is associated with pathology and cortical development

Mol Psychiatry. 2023 Mar;28(3):1112-1127. doi: 10.1038/s41380-022-01921-z. Epub 2022 Dec 28.


Williams syndrome (WS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a heterozygous micro-deletion in the WS critical region (WSCR) and is characterized by hyper-sociability and neurocognitive abnormalities. Nonetheless, whether and to what extent WSCR deletion leads to epigenetic modifications in the brain and induces pathological outcomes remains largely unknown. By examining DNA methylation in frontal cortex, we revealed genome-wide disruption in the methylome of individuals with WS, as compared to typically developed (TD) controls. Surprisingly, differentially methylated sites were predominantly annotated as introns and intergenic loci and were found to be highly enriched around binding sites for transcription factors that regulate neuronal development, plasticity and cognition. Moreover, by utilizing enhancer-promoter interactome data, we confirmed that most of these loci function as active enhancers in the human brain or as target genes of transcriptional networks associated with myelination, oligodendrocyte (OL) differentiation, cognition and social behavior. Cell type-specific methylation analysis revealed aberrant patterns in the methylation of active enhancers in neurons and OLs, and important neuron-glia interactions that might be impaired in individuals with WS. Finally, comparison of methylation profiles from blood samples of individuals with WS and healthy controls, along with other data collected in this study, identified putative targets of endophenotypes associated with WS, which can be used to define brain-risk loci for WS outside the WSCR locus, as well as for other associated pathologies. In conclusion, our study illuminates the brain methylome landscape of individuals with WS and sheds light on how these aberrations might be involved in social behavior and physiological abnormalities. By extension, these results may lead to better diagnostics and more refined therapeutic targets for WS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA
  • DNA Methylation
  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / pathology
  • Williams Syndrome* / genetics
  • Williams Syndrome* / pathology


  • DNA