Co-expression of long non-coding RNAs and autism risk genes in the developing human brain


Abstract Background Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the umbrella term for a group of neurodevelopmental disorders convergent on behavioral phenotypes. While many genes have been implicated in the disorder, the predominant focus of previous research has been on protein coding genes. This leaves a vast number of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) not characterized for their role in the disorder although lncRNAs have been shown to play important roles in development and are highly represented in the brain. Studies have also shown lncRNAs to be differentially expressed in ASD affected brains. However, there has yet to be an enrichment analysis of the shared ontologies and pathways of known ASD genes and lncRNAs in normal brain development. Results In this study, we performed co-expression network analysis on the developing brain transcriptome to identify potential lncRNAs associated with ASD and possible annotations for functional role of lncRNAs in brain development. We found co-enrichment of lncRNA genes and ASD risk genes in two distinct groups of modules showing elevated prenatal and postnatal expression patterns, respectively. Further enrichment analysis of the module groups indicated that the early expression modules were comprised mainly of transcriptional regulators while the later expression modules were associated with synapse formation. Finally, lncRNAs were prioritized for their connectivity with the known ASD risk genes through analysis of an adjacency matrix. Collectively, the results imply early developmental repression of synaptic genes through lncRNAs and ASD transcriptional regulators. Conclusion Here we demonstrate the utility of mining the publically available brain gene expression data to further functionally annotate the role of lncRNAs in ASD. Our analysis indicates that lncRNAs potentially have a key role in ASD due to their convergence on shared pathways, and we identify lncRNAs of interest that may lead to further avenues of study.

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