Elevated polygenic burden for autism is associated with differential DNA methylation at birth

Eilis Hannon, Diana Schendel, Christine Ladd-Acosta, Jakob Grove, Christine Søholm Hansen, Shan V. Andrews, David Michael Hougaard, Michaeline Bresnahan, Ole Mors, Mads Vilhelm Hollegaard, Marie Bækvad-Hansen, Mady Hornig, Preben Bo Mortensen, Anders D. Børglum, Thomas Werge, Marianne Giørtz Pedersen, Merete Nordentoft, Joseph Buxbaum, M. Daniele Fallin, Jonas Bybjerg-GrauholmAbraham Reichenberg, Jonathan Mill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. The etiology of ASD involves both inherited and environmental risk factors, with epigenetic processes hypothesized as one mechanism by which both genetic and non-genetic variation influence gene regulation and pathogenesis. Methods: We quantified neonatal methylomic variation in 1,263 infants - of whom ~50% went on to subsequently develop ASD – using DNA isolated from a unique collection of archived blood spots taken shortly after birth. We used matched genetic data from the same individuals to examine the molecular consequences of ASD genetic risk variants, identifying methylomic variation associated with elevated polygenic burden for ASD. In addition, we performed DNA methylation quantitative trait loci (mQTL) mapping to prioritize target genes from ASD GWAS findings. Results: Although we did not identify specific loci showing consistent changes in neonatal DNA methylation associated with later ASD, we found a significant association between increased polygenic burden for autism and methylomic variation at two CpG sites located proximal to a robust GWAS signal for ASD on chromosome 8. Conclusions: This study is the largest analysis of DNA methylation in ASD yet undertaken and the first to integrate both genetic and epigenetic variation at birth in ASD. We demonstrate the utility of using a polygenic risk score to identify molecular variation associated with disease, and of using mQTL to refine the functional and regulatory variation associated with ASD risk variants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Nov 26 2017


  • Autism
  • Birth
  • DNA methylation
  • DNA methylation quantitative trait loci (mQTL)
  • Epigenome-wide association study (EWAS)
  • Genetics
  • Genome-wide association study (GWAS)
  • Neonatal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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