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Mitochondrial dysfunction and autism: comprehensive genetic analyses of children with autism and mtDNA deletion.

Behav Brain Funct. 2018 Feb 20;14(1):4

Authors: Varga NÁ, Pentelényi K, Balicza P, Gézsi A, Reményi V, Hársfalvi V, Bencsik R, Illés A, Prekop C, Molnár MJ

BACKGROUND: The etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is very heterogeneous. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been described in ASD; however, primary mitochondrial disease has been genetically proven in a small subset of patients. The main goal of the present study was to investigate correlations between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) changes and alterations of genes associated with mtDNA maintenance or ASD.
METHODS: Sixty patients with ASD and sixty healthy individuals were screened for common mtDNA mutations. Next generation sequencing was performed on patients with major mtDNA deletions (mtdel-ASD) using two gene panels to investigate nuclear genes that are associated with ASD or are responsible for mtDNA maintenance. Cohorts of healthy controls, ASD patients without mtDNA alterations, and patients with mitochondrial disorders (non-ASD) harbouring mtDNA deletions served as comparison groups.
RESULTS: MtDNA deletions were confirmed in 16.6% (10/60) of patients with ASD (mtdel-ASD). In 90% of this mtdel-ASD children we found rare SNVs in ASD-associated genes (one of those was pathogenic). In the intergenomic panel of this cohort one likely pathogenic variant was present. In patients with mitochondrial disease in genes responsible for mtDNA maintenance pathogenic mutations and variants of uncertain significance (VUS) were detected more frequently than those found in patients from the mtdel-ASD or other comparison groups. In healthy controls and in patients without a mtDNA deletion, only VUS were detected in both panel.
CONCLUSIONS: MtDNA alterations are more common in patients with ASD than in control individuals. MtDNA deletions are not isolated genetic alterations found in ASD; they coexist either with other ASD-associated genetic risk factors or with alterations in genes responsible for intergenomic communication. These findings indicate that mitochondrial dysfunction is not rare in ASD. The occurring mtDNA deletions in ASD may be mostly a consequence of the alterations of the causative culprit genes for autism or genes responsible for mtDNA maintenance, or because of the harmful effect of environmental factors.

PMID: 29458409 [PubMed – in process]

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