Developing a Predictive Gene Classifier for Autism Spectrum Disorders Based upon Differential Gene Expression Profiles of Phenotypic Subgroups

Valerie W. Hu, PhD, Yinglei Lai, PhD


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders which are currently diagnosed solely on the basis of abnormal stereotyped behavior as well as observable deficits in communication and social functioning.  Although a variety of candidate genes have been identified on the basis of genetic analyses and up to 20% of ASD cases can be collectively associated with a genetic abnormality, no single gene or genetic variant is applicable to more than 1-2 percent of the general ASD population.  In this report, we apply class prediction algorithms to gene expression profiles of lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) from several phenotypic subgroups of idiopathic autism defined by cluster analyses of behavioral severity scores on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised diagnostic instrument for ASD. We further demonstrate that individuals from these ASD subgroups can be distinguished from nonautistic controls on the basis of limited sets of differentially expressed genes with a predicted classification accuracy of up to 94% and sensitivities and specificities of ~90% or better, based on support vector machine analyses with leave-one-out validation.  Validation of a subset of the “classifier” genes by high-throughput quantitative nuclease protection assays with a new set of LCL samples derived from individuals in one of the phenotypic subgroups and from a new set of controls resulted in an overall class prediction accuracy of  ~82%, with ~90% sensitivity and 75% specificity.  Although additional validation with a larger cohort is needed, and effective clinical translation must include confirmation of the differentially expressed genes in primary cells from cases earlier in development, we suggest that such panels of genes, based on expression analyses of phenotypically more homogeneous subgroups of individuals with ASD, may be useful biomarkers for diagnosis of subtypes of idiopathic autism.

[N A J Med Sci. 2013;6(3):107-116.   DOI:  10.7156/najms.2013.0603107]


Autism, subphenotypes, gene expression, class prediction, blood biomarkers

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