Importance: Neurodevelopmental disabilities are commonly associated with congenital heart disease (CHD), but medical and sociodemographic factors explain only one-third of the variance in outcomes.
Objective: To examine whether potentially damaging de novo variants (dDNVs) in genes not previously linked to neurodevelopmental disability are associated with neurologic outcomes in CHD and, post hoc, whether some dDNVs or rare putative loss-of-function variants (pLOFs) in specific gene categories are associated with outcomes.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study was conducted from September 2017 to June 2020 in 8 US centers. Inclusion criteria were CHD, age 8 years or older, and available exome sequencing data. Individuals with pathogenic gene variants in known CHD- or neurodevelopment-related genes were excluded. Cases and controls were frequency-matched for CHD class, age group, and sex.
Exposures: Heterozygous for (cases) or lacking (controls) dDNVs in genes not previously associated with neurodevelopmental disability. Participants were separately stratified as heterozygous or not heterozygous for dDNVs and/or pLOFs in 4 gene categories: chromatin modifying, constrained, high level of brain expression, and neurodevelopmental risk.
Main outcomes and measures: Main outcomes were neurodevelopmental assessments of academic achievement, intelligence, fine motor skills, executive function, attention, memory, social cognition, language, adaptive functioning, and anxiety and depression, as well as 7 structural, diffusion, and functional brain magnetic resonance imaging metrics.
Results: The study cohort included 221 participants in the post hoc analysis and 219 in the case-control analysis (109 cases [49.8%] and 110 controls [50.2%]). Of those 219 participants (median age, 15.0 years [IQR, 10.0-21.2 years]), 120 (54.8%) were male. Cases and controls had similar primary outcomes (reading composite, spelling, and math computation on the Wide Range Achievement Test, Fourth Edition) and secondary outcomes. dDNVs and/or pLOFs in chromatin-modifying genes were associated with lower mean (SD) verbal comprehension index scores (91.4 [20.4] vs 103.4 [17.8]; P = .01), Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition, scores (57.3 [17.2] vs 49.4 [11.2]; P = .03), and Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition, working memory scores (73.8 [16.4] vs 97.2 [15.7]; P = .03), as well as higher likelihood of autism spectrum disorder (28.6% vs 5.2%; P = .01). dDNVs and/or pLOFs in constrained genes were associated with lower mean (SD) scores on the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning, Second Edition (immediate story memory: 9.7 [3.7] vs 10.7 [3.0]; P = .03; immediate picture memory: 7.8 [3.1] vs 9.0 [2.9]; P = .008). Adults with dDNVs and/or pLOFs in genes with a high level of brain expression had greater Conners adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder rating scale scores (mean [SD], 55.5 [15.4] vs 46.6 [12.3]; P = .007).
Conclusions and relevance: The study findings suggest neurodevelopmental outcomes are not associated with dDNVs as a group but may be worse in individuals with dDNVs and/or pLOFs in some gene sets, such as chromatin-modifying genes. Future studies should confirm the importance of specific gene variants to brain function and structure.