This collaborative application is submitted in response to RFA MH-09-171. The root causes of autism remain unknown, limiting efforts to understand disease heterogeneity, diagnose cases, and prevent and treat disease. Epidemiological findings have repeatedly and unequivocally determined that heritable variation in DNA plays a substantial role in the etiology of autism and autism spectrum disorders, yet traditional efforts to identify the genetic basis of this striking heritability have met with very limited success to date and have therefore provided limited insight into disease biology. We propose here an unprecedented partnership between expert large- scale sequencing centers (at the Baylor College of Medicine and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard) and a collaborative network of research labs focused on the genetics of autism (brought together by the Autism Genome Project and the Autism Consortium). These groups will work together to utilize dramatic new advances in DNA sequencing technology to reveal the genetic architecture of autism, first through a detailed examination of 1000 genes implicated by previous genetic studies or postulated to be functionally relevant, and later, as the technology continues to advance, through unbiased whole-genome sequencing. The goal is to conclusively identify which genes harbor individual or collections of rare DNA variants that predispose to autism, and thus translate the abstract heritability into solid biological clues to disease pathogenesis that can be studied molecularly and approached therapeutically. These efforts and their follow-up, which will be performed on thousands of autism families collected by the autism research groups and being provided with phenotype data to NIMH repositories, will form the cornerstone of autism genetic research going forward.
and Public Health Relevance (2 or 3 sentences): We propose a partnership between expert large-scale sequencing centers and a collaborative network of research labs focused on the genetics of autism to utilize novel high-throughput genome sequencing to discover specific genes underlying the significant heritability of autism. Without knowledge of the specific genes and DNA variants that predispose to disease, we lack the basic starting point with which we might understand the biological processes of disease. By combining large, well-characterized patient samples, experienced DNA sequencing teams and a collaborative, expert analysis and follow-up network, this study will provide novel insight into disease biology and will expose genes and pathways that constitute high priority targets for therapeutic development.
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