BackgroundCommon genetic variation and rare mutations in genes encoding calcium channel subunits have pleiotropic effects on risk for multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia. To gain further mechanistic insights by extending previous gene expression data, we constructed co-expression networks in Timothy syndrome (TS), a monogenic condition with high penetrance for ASD, caused by mutations in the L-type calcium channel, Cav1.2.
MethodsTo identify patient-specific alterations in transcriptome organization, we conducted a genome-wide weighted co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) on neural progenitors and neurons from multiple lines of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) derived from normal and TS (G406R in CACNA1C) individuals. We employed transcription factor binding site enrichment analysis to assess whether TS associated co-expression changes reflect calcium-dependent co-regulation.
ResultsWe identified reproducible developmental and activity-dependent gene co-expression modules conserved in patient and control cell lines. By comparing cell lines from case and control subjects, we also identified co-expression modules reflecting distinct aspects of TS, including intellectual disability and ASD-related phenotypes. Moreover, by integrating co-expression with transcription factor binding analysis, we showed the TS-associated transcriptional changes were predicted to be co-regulated by calcium-dependent transcriptional regulators, including NFAT, MEF2, CREB, and FOXO, thus providing a mechanism by which altered Ca(2+) signaling in TS patients leads to the observed molecular dysregulation.
ConclusionsWe applied WGCNA to construct co-expression networks related to neural development and depolarization in iPSC-derived neural cells from TS and control individuals for the first time. These analyses illustrate how a systems biology approach based on gene networks can yield insights into the molecular mechanisms of neural development and function, and provide clues as to the functional impact of the downstream effects of Ca(2+) signaling dysregulation on transcription.