We have used Gene Ontology (GO) and pathway analyses to uncover the common functions associated to the genes overlapping Copy Number Variants (CNVs) in autistic patients. Our source of data were four published studies [1- 4]. We first applied a two-step enrichment strategy for autism-specific genes. We fished out from the four mentioned studies a list of 2928 genes overall overlapping 328 CNVs in patients and we first selected a sub-group of 2044 genes after excluding those ones that are also involved in CNVs reported in the Database of Genomic Variants (enrichment step 1). We then selected from the step 1-enriched list a sub-group of 514 genes each of which was found to be deleted or duplicated in at least two patients (enrichment step 2). The number of statistically significant processes and pathways identified by the Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery and Ingenuity Pathways Analysis softwares with the step 2-enriched list was significantly higher compared to the step 1-enriched list. In addition, statistically significant GO terms, biofunctions and pathways related to nervous system development and function were exclusively identified by the step 2-enriched list of genes. Interestingly, 21 genes were associated to axon growth and pathfinding. The latter genes and other ones associated to nervous system in this study represent a new set of autism candidate genes deserving further investigation. In summary, our results suggest that the autisms “connectivity genes” in some patients affect very early phases of neurodevelopment, i.e., earlier than synaptogenesis.
Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Copy Number Variants, Gene Ontology, axon guidance signalling, neurodevelopment, candidate genes
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