Variation in gene expression in autism spectrum disorders: An extensive review of transcriptomic studies

Ashley Ansel, Joshua P. Rosenzweig, Philip D. Zisman, Michal Melamed, Benjamin Gesundheit

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of complex neurodevelopmental conditions that present in early childhood and have a current estimated prevalence of about 1 in 68 US children, 1 in 42 boys. ASDs are heterogeneous, and arise from epigenetic, genetic and environmental origins, yet, the exact etiology of ASDs still remains unknown. Individuals with ASDs are characterized by having deficits in social interaction, impaired communication and a range of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors. Currently, a diagnosis of ASD is based solely on behavioral assessments and phenotype. Hundreds of diverse ASD susceptibility genes have been identified, yet none of the mutations found account for more than a small subset of autism cases. Therefore, a genetic diagnosis is not yet possible for the majority of the ASD population. The susceptibility genes that have been identified are involved in a wide and varied range of biological functions. Since the genetics of ASDs is so diverse, information on genome function as provided by transcriptomic data is essential to further our understanding. Gene expression studies have been extremely useful in comparing groups of individuals with ASD and control samples in order to measure which genes (or group of genes) are dysregulated in the ASD group. Transcriptomic studies are essential as a key link between measuring protein levels and analyzing genetic information. This review of recent autism gene expression studies highlights genes that are expressed in the brain, immune system, and processes such as cell metabolism and embryology. Various biological processes have been shown to be implicated with ASD individuals as well as differences in gene expression levels between different types of biological tissues. Some studies use gene expression to attempt to separate autism into different subtypes. An updated list of genes shown to be significantly dysregulated in individuals with autism from all recent ASD expression studies will help further research isolate any patterns useful for diagnosis or understanding the mechanisms involved. The functional relevance of transcriptomic studies as a method of classifying and diagnosing ASD cannot be underestimated despite the possible limitations of transcriptomic studies.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number601
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Gene expression
  • Immune system
  • Lymphoblastoid cell lines
  • Monozygotic twins
  • Neurogenesis and inflammation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Variation in gene expression in autism spectrum disorders: An extensive review of transcriptomic studies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this