Comparative immunogenetics of autism and schizophrenia


B. J. Crespi, Department of Biosciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. E-mail:


Autism and schizophrenia are highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorders, each mediated by a diverse suite of genetic and environmental risk factors. Comorbidity and familial aggregation of such neurodevelopmental disorders with other disease-related conditions can provide important insights into their etiology. Epidemiological studies have documented reduced rates of rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic autoimmune condition, in schizophrenia, and recent work has shown increased rates of rheumatoid arthritis in first-degree relatives of autistic individuals, especially mothers. Advances in understanding the genetic basis of rheumatoid arthritis have shown that much of the genetic liability to this condition is due to risk and protective alleles at the HLA DRB1 locus. These data allow robust testing of the hypotheses that allelic variation at DRB1 pleiotropically modulates risk of rheumatoid arthritis, autism and schizophrenia. Systematic review of the literature indicates that reported associations of DRB1 variants with these three conditions are congruent with a pleiotropic model: DRB1*04 alleles have been associated with increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis and autism but decreased risk of schizophrenia, and DRB1*13 alleles have been associated with protection from rheumatoid arthritis and autism but higher risk of schizophrenia. These convergent findings from genetics and epidemiology imply that a subset of autism and schizophrenia cases may be underlain by genetically based neuroimmune alterations, and that analyses of the causes of risk and protective effects from DRB1 variants may provide new approaches to therapy.