Heterogeneous dysregulation of microRNAs across the autism spectrum
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microRNAs (miRNAs) are ~21 nt transcripts capable of regulating the expression of many mRNAs and are abundant in the brain. miRNAs have a role in several complex diseases including cancer as well as some neurological diseases such as Tourette’s syndrome and Fragile x syndrome. As a genetically complex disease, dysregulation of miRNA expression might be a feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Using multiplex quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), we compared the expression of 466 human miRNAs from postmortem cerebellar cortex tissue of individuals with ASD (n = 13) and a control set of non-autistic cerebellar samples (n = 13). While most miRNAs levels showed little variation across all samples suggesting that autism does not induce global dysfunction of miRNA expression, some miRNAs among the autistic samples were expressed at significantly different levels compared to the mean control value. Twenty-eight miRNAs were expressed at significantly different levels compared to the non-autism control set in at least one of the autism samples. To validate the finding, we reversed the analysis and compared each non-autism control to a single mean value for each miRNA across all autism cases. In this analysis, the number of dysregulated miRNAs fell from 28 to 9 miRNAs. Among the predicted targets of dysregulated miRNAs are genes that are known genetic causes of autism such Neurexin and SHANK3. This study finds that altered miRNA expression levels are observed in postmortem cerebellar cortex from autism patients, a finding which suggests that dysregulation of miRNAs may contribute to autism spectrum phenotype.
KeywordsAutism spectrum disorder miRNA Postmortem tissue Cerebellum
We thank the Autism Tissue Program, Harvard Brain Bank and The Maryland Tissue Bank for the tissue samples. We thank Dr. Margaret Bauman for tissue specimens. The National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR-Autism Speaks) and the W.M. Keck Foundation supported this research. A Young Investigator grant from the Cure Autism Now Foundation supported Yuhei Nishimura.
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