Neuronal connectivity as a convergent target of gene × environment interactions that confer risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.ntt.2012.12.001
Evidence implicates environmental factors in the pathogenesis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, the identity of specific environmental chemicals that influence ASD risk, severity or treatment outcome remains elusive. The impact of any given environmental exposure likely varies across a population according to individual genetic substrates, and this increases the difficulty of identifying clear associations between exposure and ASD diagnoses. Heritable genetic vulnerabilities may amplify adverse effects triggered by environmental exposures if genetic and environmental factors converge to dysregulate the same signaling systems at critical times of development. Thus, one strategy for identifying environmental risk factors for ASD is to screen for environmental factors that modulate the same signaling pathways as ASD susceptibility genes. Recent advances in defining the molecular and cellular pathology of ASD point to altered patterns of neuronal connectivity in the developing brain as the neurobiological basis of these disorders. Studies of syndromic ASD and rare highly penetrant mutations or CNVs in ASD suggest that ASD risk genes converge on several major signaling pathways linked to altered neuronal connectivity in the developing brain. This review briefly summarizes the evidence implicating dysfunctional signaling via Ca(2+)-dependent mechanisms, extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK)/phosphatidylinositol-3-kinases (PI3K) and neuroligin-neurexin-SHANK as convergent molecular mechanisms in ASD, and then discusses examples of environmental chemicals for which there is emerging evidence of their potential to interfere with normal neuronal connectivity via perturbation of these signaling pathways.