Nuclear and Mitochondrial Genome Defects in Autisms


Address for correspondence: Moyra Smith, MD, PhD, Sprague 306, College of Health Sciences, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697. Voice/fax: +949824-7469.


In this review we will evaluate evidence that altered gene dosage and structure impacts neurodevelopment and neural connectivity through deleterious effects on synaptic structure and function, and evidence that the latter are key contributors to the risk for autism. We will review information on alterations of structure of mitochondrial DNA and abnormal mitochondrial function in autism and indications that interactions of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes may play a role in autism pathogenesis. In a final section we will present data derived using Affymetrixtm SNP 6.0 microarray analysis of DNA of a number of subjects and parents recruited to our autism spectrum disorders project. We include data on two sets of monozygotic twins. Collectively these data provide additional evidence of nuclear and mitochondrial genome imbalance in autism and evidence of specific candidate genes in autism. We present data on dosage changes in genes that map on the X chromosomes and the Y chromosome. Precise analyses of Y located genes are often difficult because of the high degree of homology of X- and Y-related genes. However, continued efforts to analyze the latter are important, given the consistent evidence for a 4:1 ratio of males to females affected by autism. It is also important to consider whether environmental factors play a role in generating the nuclear and mitochondrial genomic instability we have observed. The study of autism will benefit from a move to analysis of pathways and multigene clusters for identification of subtypes that share a specific genetic etiology.