Association of the homeobox transcription factor, ENGRAILED 2, 3, with autism spectrum disorder.
Mouse mutants of the homeobox transcription factor Engrailed2 (En2) and autistic individuals display similar cerebellar morphological abnormalities, which include hypoplasia and a decrease in the number of Purkinje cells. Human EN2 maps to 7q36, a chromosomal region that has demonstrated suggestive linkage to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To investigate EN2 for evidence of association with ASD, four single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (rs3735653, rs1861972, rs1861973, rs2361689) that span the majority of the 8.0 kb gene were assessed by the transmission/disequilibrium test. Initially, 138 triads of autistic individuals and their parents were tested. Two intronic SNPs (rs1861972 and rs1861973) demonstrated significant association with autism (rs1861972, P=0.0018; rs1861973, P=0.0003; haplotype, P=0.000005). Flanking exonic SNPs (rs3735653 and rs2361689) did not display association. This analysis was then extended to include 167 small nuclear ASD pedigrees and significant association was again only observed for rs1861972 and rs1861973 under both the narrow and broad diagnostic criteria (narrow: rs1861972 P=0.0290, rs1861973 P=0.0073, haplotype P=0.0009; broad: rs1861972 P=0.0175, rs1861973 P=0.0107, haplotype P=0.0024). These data demonstrate association between a cerebellar patterning gene and ASD, suggesting a role for EN2 as a susceptibility locus and supporting a neurodevelopmental defect hypothesis in the etiology of autism.