Background: Genetic studies in autism have pinpointed a heterogeneous group of loci and genes. Further, environment may be an additional factor conferring susceptibility to autism. Transcriptome studies investigate quantitative differences in gene expression between patient-derived tissues and control. These studies may pinpoint genes relevant to pathophysiology yet circumvent the need to understand genetic architecture or gene-by-environment interactions leading to disease. Methods: We conducted alternate gene set enrichment analyses using differentially expressed genes from a previously published RNA-seq study of post-mortem autism cerebral cortex. We used three previously published microarray datasets for validation and one of the microarray datasets for additional differential expression analysis. The RNA-seq study used 26 autism and 33 control brains in differential gene expression analysis, and the largest microarray dataset contained 15 autism and 16 control post-mortem brains. Results: While performing a gene set enrichment analysis of genes differentially expressed in the RNA-seq study, we discovered that genes associated with mitochondrial function were downregulated in autism cerebral cortex, as compared to control. These genes were correlated with genes related to synaptic function. We validated these findings across the multiple microarray datasets. We also did separate differential expression and gene set enrichment analyses to confirm the importance of the mitochondrial pathway among downregulated genes in post-mortem autism cerebral cortex. Conclusions: We found that genes related to mitochondrial function were differentially expressed in autism cerebral cortex and correlated with genes related to synaptic transmission. Our principal findings replicate across all datasets investigated. Further, these findings may potentially replicate in other diseases, such as in schizophrenia.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience