Significant evidence exists for the association between copy number variants (CNVs) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); however, most of this work has focused solely on the diagnosis of ASD. There is limited understanding of the impact of CNVs on the 'sub-phenotypes' of ASD. The objective of this paper is to evaluate associations between CNVs in differentially brain expressed (DBE) genes or genes previously implicated in ASD/intellectual disability (ASD/ID) and specific sub-phenotypes of ASD. The sample consisted of 1590 cases of European ancestry from the Autism Genome Project (AGP) with a diagnosis of an ASD and at least one rare CNV impacting any gene and a core set of phenotypic measures, including symptom severity, language impairments, seizures, gait disturbances, intelligence quotient (IQ) and adaptive function, as well as paternal and maternal age. Classification analyses using a non-parametric recursive partitioning method (random forests) were employed to define sets of phenotypic characteristics that best classify the CNV-defined groups. There was substantial variation in the classification accuracy of the two sets of genes. The best variables for classification were verbal IQ for the ASD/ID genes, paternal age at birth for the DBE genes and adaptive function for de novo CNVs. CNVs in the ASD/ID list were primarily associated with communication and language domains, whereas CNVs in DBE genes were related to broader manifestations of adaptive function. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the associations between sub-phenotypes and CNVs genome-wide in ASD. This work highlights the importance of examining the diverse sub-phenotypic manifestations of CNVs in ASD, including the specific features, comorbid conditions and clinical correlates of ASD that comprise underlying characteristics of the disorder.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 25 November 2014; doi:10.1038/mp.2014.150.
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