Transcriptome signatures from discordant sibling pairs reveal changes in peripheral blood immune cell composition in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Michele Filosi, Tony Kam-Thong, Pierandrea Muglia, Elisabetta Trabetti, Will Spooren, Bertram Müller-Myshok, Elisa Mani, Massimo Molteni, Italian Autism Network

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Notwithstanding several research efforts in the past years, robust and replicable molecular signatures for autism spectrum disorders from peripheral blood remain elusive. The available literature on blood transcriptome in ASD suggests that through accurate experimental design it is possible to extract important information on the disease pathophysiology at the peripheral level. Here we exploit the availability of a resource for molecular biomarkers in ASD, the Italian Autism Network (ITAN) collection, for the investigation of transcriptomic signatures in ASD based on a discordant sibling pair design. Whole blood samples from 75 discordant sibling pairs selected from the ITAN network where submitted to RNASeq analysis and data analyzed by complementary approaches. Overall, differences in gene expression between affected and unaffected siblings were small. In order to assess the contribution of differences in the relative proportion of blood cells between discordant siblings, we have applied two different cell deconvolution algorithms, showing that the observed molecular signatures mainly reflect changes in peripheral blood immune cell composition, in particular NK cells. The results obtained by the cell deconvolution approach are supported by the analysis performed by WGCNA. Our report describes the largest differential gene expression profiling in peripheral blood of ASD subjects and controls conducted by RNASeq. The observed signatures are consistent with the hypothesis of immune alterations in autism and an increased risk of developing autism in subjects exposed to prenatal infections or stress. Our study also points to a potential role of NMUR1, HMGB3, and PTPRN2 in ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106
Number of pages12
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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