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Microduplications at the pseudoautosomal SHOX locus in autism spectrum disorders and related neurodevelopmental conditions


Background The pseudoautosomal short stature homeobox-containing (SHOX) gene encodes a homeodomain transcription factor involved in cell-cycle and growth regulation. SHOX/SHOX enhancers deletions cause short stature and skeletal abnormalities in a female-dominant fashion; duplications appear to be rare. Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), are complex disorders with high heritability and skewed sex ratio; several rare (<1% frequency) CNVs have been implicated in risk.

Methods We analysed data from a discovery series of 90 adult ASD cases, who underwent clinical genetic testing by array-comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH). Twenty-seven individuals harboured CNV abnormalities, including two unrelated females with microduplications affecting SHOX. To determine the prevalence of SHOX duplications and delineate their associated phenotypic spectrum, we subsequently examined array-CGH data from a follow-up sample of 26 574 patients, including 18 857 with NDD (3541 with ASD).

Results We found a significant enrichment of SHOX microduplications in the NDD cases (p=0.00036; OR 2.21) and, particularly, in those with ASD (p=9.18×10−7; OR 3.63) compared with 12 594 population-based controls. SHOX duplications affecting the upstream or downstream enhancers were enriched only in females with NDD (p=0.0043; OR 2.69/p=0.00020; OR 7.20), but not in males (p=0.404; OR 1.38/p=0.096; OR 2.21).

Conclusions Microduplications at the SHOX locus are a low penetrance risk factor for ASD/NDD, with increased risk in both sexes. However, a concomitant duplication of SHOX enhancers may be required to trigger a NDD in females. Since specific SHOX isoforms are exclusively expressed in the developing foetal brain, this may reflect the pathogenic effect of altered SHOX protein dosage on neurodevelopment.

  • Neurodevelopment
  • Copy number variation
  • Dosage-sensitive gene
  • Enhancer
  • Female

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