Behavioral predictors of autism recurrence are genetically independent and influence social reciprocity: evidence that polygenic ASD risk is mediated by separable elements of developmental liability

Alexa Pohl, Warren R. Jones, Natasha Marrus, Yi Zhang, Ami Klin, John N. Constantino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The preponderance of causal influence on total population attributable risk for autism is polygenic in nature, but it is not known how such liability engenders the development of the syndrome. In 348 epidemiologically ascertained toddler twins, we explored associations between autistic traits and three robust, highly heritable predictors of familial autism recurrence: variation in attention, motor coordination, and parental autistic trait burden. We observed that these predictors—despite collectively accounting for over one third of variance in clinical recurrence—are genetically independent in early childhood, and jointly account for a comparable share of inherited influence on early reciprocal social behavior in the general population. Thus, combinations of what are otherwise discrete, inherited behavioral liabilities—some not specific to autism—appear to jointly mediate common genetic risk for autism. Linking genetic variants and neural signatures to these independent traits prior to the onset of the development of autism will enhance understanding of mechanisms of causation in familial autistic syndromes. Moreover, ongoing biomarker discovery efforts will benefit from controlling for the effects of these common liabilities, which aggregate in individuals with autism but are also continuously distributed in “controls”. Finally, early inherited liabilities that participate in the early ontogeny of autistic syndromes represent parsimonious intervention targets for polygenic forms of the condition, and represent candidate trans-diagnostic endophenotypes of potential relevance to a diversity of neuropsychiatric syndromes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number202
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

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