Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can present with different onset and timing of symptom development; children may manifest symptoms early in their first year of life, i.e., early onset (EO-ASD), or may lose already achieved skills during their second year of life, thus showing a regressive-type onset (RO-ASD). It is still controversial whether regression represents a neurobiological subtype of ASD, resulting from distinct genetic and environmental causes. We focused this study on the 25 kD synaptosomal-associated protein (SNAP-25) gene involved in both post-synaptic formation and adhesion and considered a key player in the pathogenesis of ASD. To this end, four single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the SNAP-25 gene, rs363050, rs363039, rs363043, and rs1051312, already known to be involved in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, were analyzed in a cohort of 69 children with EO-ASD and 58 children with RO-ASD. Both the rs363039 G allele and GG genotype were significantly more frequently carried by patients with EO-ASD than those with RO-ASD and healthy controls (HC). On the contrary, the rs1051312 T allele and TT genotype were more frequent in individuals with RO-ASD than those with EO-ASD and HC. Thus, two different SNAP-25 alleles/genotypes seem to discriminate between EO-ASD and RO-ASD. Notably, rs1051312 is located in the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of the gene and is the target of microRNA (miRNA) regulation, suggesting a possible epigenetic role in the onset of regressive autism. These SNPs, by discriminating two different onset patterns, may represent diagnostic biomarkers of ASD and may provide insight into the different biological mechanisms towards the development of better tailored therapeutic and rehabilitative approaches.
Keywords: ASD classic onset; ASD regressive onset; SNAP-25 gene (synaptosomal-associated protein of 25 kDa); autism spectrum disorders (ASD); epigenetics; regression.