The past decade has seen outstanding advances in the genetics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however only a moderate number of the hundreds of genes and genomic regions thought to be involved in ASD have been identified. Advances have come largely from the study of rare genetic variants, especially de novo variation, including single nucleotide variation (SNV), insertion/deletions (indels), copy number variation (CNV), and larger chromosomal imbalances. A portion of the progress for ASD has come through the efforts of the Autism Sequencing Consortium (ASC), which represents a coordinated effort by more than 40 independent groups to rapidly identify ASD risk genes. Here we propose to continue the work of the ASC, largely by continued production and analysis of sequence data from ASD subjects and their families. The ASC benefits from substantial leveraging of resources, including the Exome Aggregation Consortium (ExAC) centered at the Broad Institute (BI) and whole-exome sequencing (WES) of ASC samples, supported by an NHGRI Center Grant to BI, to make this renewal as low cost as possible. We also plan new avenues of research, such as integrating whole genome sequence (WGS) data and building on ideas that have emerged from the study of common variants to understand the interplay of common and rare variants to impact risk. Through this new research we will accelerate our overall objective, which is the identification of ASD genes, thereby facilitating our long-term goal of building the foundation from which therapeutic targets for ASD emerge. Our rationale is that the identification of genes conferring significant risk to ASD and associated neurodevelopmental disorders can form the basis of studies to understand pathogenesis, as well as the basis for novel therapies. Moreover, such variants have direct implications for patients and their families in terms of etiological diagnosis, genetic counseling and patient care. Our central hypothesis ? formulated based on results over the past decade ? is that rare and common variation contributes additively to risk for ASD, but only certain rare variants confer substantial risk. The objectives will be accomplished with the following Specific Aims: 1) Produce and/or analyze WES of 30,000 new ASD subjects, parents and other controls, for a total of more than 50,000 samples; 2) Develop and apply approaches to find ?hidden? risk variants, and, 3) Use results from common and rare variant studies to describe the interplay of such variation in ASD risk. This contribution is significant because it represents the first step in research to understand pathogenesis of ASD and to the development of pharmacological strategies for treatment of core symptoms of ASD and etiologically related neurodevelopmental disorders. The research proposed is innovative, in our opinion, because it uses groundbreaking and novel statistical methods for identifying risk variants and for integrating rare and common variation. This is a new and substantively different approach to gene discovery in ASD that departs significantly from the status quo and provides the means to achieve these important goals.
The proposed research is relevant to public health because a better understanding of risk in autism will lead to improved methods for prevention and treatment. It is also relevant to the NIH mission and to the IACC recommendations around identifying genetic risk in at least 50% of people with ASD, including an exploration of de novo and transmitted variation.
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