Phenotypic Subtyping and Re-analyses of Existing Transcriptomic Data from Autistic Probands in Simplex Families Reveal Differentially Expressed and ASD Trait-Associated Genes

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Frontiers in Neurology






ASD subgroups; ASD trait-associated genes; comparison with multiplex population; simplex families; transcriptomic analysis


© Copyright © 2020 Hu and Bi. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a collection of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by core symptoms that include social communication deficits and repetitive, stereotyped behaviors often coupled with restricted interests. Primary challenges to understanding and treating ASD are the genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity of cases that complicates all omics analyses as well as a lack of information on relationships among genes, pathways, and autistic traits. In this study, we re-analyze existing transcriptomic data from simplex families by subtyping individuals with ASD according to multivariate cluster analyses of clinical ADI-R scores that encompass a broad range of behavioral symptoms. We also correlate multiple ASD traits, such as deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, play and social skills, ritualistic behaviors, and savant skills, with expression profiles using Weighted Gene Correlation Network Analyses (WGCNA). Our results show that subtyping greatly enhances the ability to identify differentially expressed genes involved in specific canonical pathways and biological functions associated with ASD within each phenotypic subgroup. Moreover, using WGCNA, we identify gene modules that correlate significantly with specific ASD traits. Network prediction analyses of the genes in these modules reveal canonical pathways as well as neurological functions and disorders relevant to the pathobiology of ASD. Finally, we compare the WGCNA-derived data on autistic traits in simplex families with analogous data from multiplex families using transcriptomic data from our previous studies. The comparison reveals overlapping trait-associated pathways as well as upstream regulators of the module-associated genes that may serve as useful targets for a precision medicine approach to ASD.