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Profiling allele-specific gene expression in brains from individuals with autism spectrum disorder reveals preferential minor allele usage


One fundamental but understudied mechanism of gene regulation in disease is allele-specific expression (ASE), the preferential expression of one allele. We leveraged RNA-sequencing data from human brain to assess ASE in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When ASE is observed in ASD, the allele with lower population frequency (minor allele) is preferentially more highly expressed than the major allele, opposite to the canonical pattern. Importantly, genes showing ASE in ASD are enriched in those downregulated in ASD postmortem brains and in genes harboring de novo mutations in ASD. Two regions, 14q32 and 15q11, containing all known orphan C/D box small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), are particularly enriched in shifts to higher minor allele expression. We demonstrate that this allele shifting enhances snoRNA-targeted splicing changes in ASD-related target genes in idiopathic ASD and 15q11-q13 duplication syndrome. Together, these results implicate allelic imbalance and dysregulation of orphan C/D box snoRNAs in ASD pathogenesis.

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