The overwhelming success of exome- and genome-wide association studies in discovering thousands of disease-associated genes necessitates developing novel high-throughput functional genomics approaches to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of these genes. Here, we have coupled multiplexed repression of neurodevelopmental disease-associated genes to single-cell transcriptional profiling in differentiating human neurons to rapidly assay the functions of multiple genes in a disease-relevant context, assess potentially convergent mechanisms, and prioritize genes for specific functional assays. For a set of 13 autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-associated genes, we show that this approach generated important mechanistic insights, revealing two functionally convergent modules of ASD genes: one that delays neuron differentiation and one that accelerates it. Five genes that delay neuron differentiation (ADNP, ARID1B, ASH1L, CHD2, and DYRK1A) mechanistically converge, as they all dysregulate genes involved in cell-cycle control and progenitor cell proliferation. Live-cell imaging after individual ASD-gene repression validated this functional module, confirming that these genes reduce neural progenitor cell proliferation and neurite growth. Finally, these functionally convergent ASD gene modules predicted shared clinical phenotypes among individuals with mutations in these genes. Altogether, these results show the utility of a novel and simple approach for the rapid functional elucidation of neurodevelopmental disease-associated genes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1317-1331
Number of pages15
JournalGenome research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2020


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