Glutamatergic candidate genes in autism spectrum disorder: an overview
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders with early onset in childhood. Most of the risk for ASD can be explained by genetic variants that act in interaction with biological environmental risk factors. However, the architecture of the genetic components is still unclear. Genetic studies and subsequent systems biological approaches described converging functional effects of identified genes towards pathways relevant for neuronal signalling. Mouse models suggest an aberrant synaptic plasticity at the neuropathological level, which is believed to be conferred by dysregulation of long-term potentiation or depression of neuronal connections. A central pathway regulating these mechanisms is glutamatergic signalling. Here, we hypothesized that susceptibility genes for ASD are enriched for components of this pathway. To further understand the impact of ASD risk genes on the glutamatergic pathway, we performed a systematic review using the literature database “pubmed” and the “AutismKB” knowledgebase. We provide an overview of the glutamatergic system in typical brain function and development, and summarize findings from linkage, association, copy number variants, and sequencing studies in ASD to provide a comprehensive picture of the glutamatergic landscape of ASD genetics. Genetic variants associated with ASD were enriched in glutamatergic pathways, affecting receptor signalling, metabolism and transport. Furthermore, in genetically modified mouse models for ASD, pharmacological compounds acting on ionotropic or metabotropic receptor activity are able to rescue ASD reminscent phenotypes. We conclude that glutamatergic genetic risk factors for ASD show a complex pattern and further studies are needed to fully understand its mechanisms, before translation of findings into clinical applications and individualized treatment approaches will be possible.