Simple genetic models for autism spectrum disorder
Swagatam Mukhopadhyay , Michael Wigler , Dan Levy
To explore the interplay between new mutation, transmission, and gender bias in genetic disease requires formal quantitative modeling. Autism spectrum disorders offer an ideal case: they are genetic in origin, complex, and show a gender bias. The high reproductive costs of autism ensure that most strongly associated genetic mutations are short-lived, and indeed the disease exhibits both transmitted and de novo components. There is a large body of both epidemiologic and genomic data that greatly constrain the genetic mechanisms that may contribute to the disorder. We develop a computational framework that assumes classes of additive variants, each member of a class having equal effect. We restrict our initial exploration to single class models, each having three parameters. Only one model matches epidemiological data. It also independently matches the incidence of de novo mutation in simplex families, the gender bias in unaffected siblings in simplex populations, and rates of mutation in target genes. This model makes strong and as yet not fully tested predictions, namely that females are the primary carriers in cases of genetic transmission, and that the incidence of de novo mutation in target genes for families at high risk for autism are not especially elevated. In its simplicity, this model does not account for MZ twin concordance or the distorted gender bias of high functioning children with ASD, and does not accommodate all the known mechanisms contributing to ASD. We point to the next steps in applying the same computational framework to explore more complex models.