The Unique Evolutionary Signature of Genes Associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder Academic Article uri icon


  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common heritable neurodevelopmental disorder, which is characterized by communication and social deficits that reduce the reproductive fitness of individuals with the disorder. Here, we studied the genomic characteristics of 651 ASD genes in a whole-exome sequencing dataset, to search for traces of the evolutionary forces that helped maintain ASD in the human population. We show that ASD genes are ~65 longer and ~20 % less variable than non-ASD genes. The mutational shortage in ASD genes was particularly eminent when considering only deleterious genetic variations, which is a hallmark of negative selection. We further show that these genomic characteristics are unique to ASD genes, as compared with brain-specific genes or with genes of other diseases. Our findings suggest that ASD genes have evolved under complex evolutionary forces, which have left a unique signature that can be used to identify new candidate ASD genes.

publication date

  • January 1, 2016