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

M. Filosi, T. Kam-Thong, L. Essioux, P. Muglia, E. Trabetti, W. Spooren, B. Müller-Myshok, G. Alibrio, L. Anchisi, M. Andruccioli, A. Benvenuto, P.A. Battistella, F. Boscaini, C. Bravaccio, E. Ceppi, D. Cosentino, P. Curatolo, L. Da Ros, B.D. Bernardina, A. De GiacomoG. Di Vita, E. Domenici, M. Elia, F. Gitti, S. Grittani, A.L. Lamanna, E. Mani, B. Manzi, L. Margari, G. Masi, M. Molteni, F. Nardocci, A. Pascotto, A. Parmeggiani, P.F. Pignatti, T. Piroddi, P. Prandini, E. Ratti, P. Rizzini, S. Russo, R. Scifo, R. Tancredi, A. Tiberti, L. Zoccante, A. Zuddas, Italian Autism Network

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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. © 2020, The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransl. Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • high mobility group B3 protein
  • transcriptome
  • allele
  • Article
  • Asperger syndrome
  • autism
  • B lymphocyte
  • blood analysis
  • CD4+ T lymphocyte
  • clinical article
  • cytomegalovirus infection
  • deconvolution algorithm
  • female
  • gene expression
  • gene expression profiling
  • genotype
  • human
  • immunocompetent cell
  • intrauterine infection
  • male
  • natural killer cell
  • natural killer cell mediated cytotoxicity
  • NMUR1 gene
  • pathophysiology
  • peripheral blood mononuclear cell
  • PTPRN2 gene
  • RNA sequencing
  • sibling


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