University at Buffalo scientists have discovered a convergent mechanism that may be responsible for how two top-ranked genetic risk factors for autism spectrum disorder/intellectual disability (ASD/ID) lead to these neurodevelopmental disorders.
While ASD is distinct from ID, a significant proportion — approximately 31% — of people with ASD also exhibit ID. Neither condition is well-understood at the molecular level.
“Given the vast number of genes known to be involved in ASD/ID and the many potential mechanisms contributing to the disorders, it is exciting to find a shared process between two different genes at the molecular level that could be underlying the behavioral changes,” said Megan Conrow-Graham, PhD, first author and an MD/PhD candidate in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
Published today in the journal Brain, the paper focuses on ADNP and POGZ, the two top-ranked risk factor genes for ASD/ID. The research demonstrates that mutations in these genes result in abnormal activation and overexpression of immune response genes and genes for a type of immune cell in the brain called microglia.
“Our finding opens the possibility of targeting microglia and immune genes for treating ASD/ID, but much remains to be studied, given the heterogeneity and complexity of these brain disorders,” said Zhen Yan, PhD, senior author and SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the Jacobs School.
The UB scientists found that mutations in the two genes studied activate microglia and cause immune genes in the brain to be overexpressed. The hypothesized result is the abnormal function of synapses in the brain, a characteristic of ASD/ID.
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