Genetic variation in GABRB3 is associated with Asperger syndrome and multiple endophenotypes relevant to autism.
BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are associated with deficits in social interaction and communication, alongside repetitive, restricted, and stereotyped behavior. ASC is highly heritable. The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic system has been associated consistently with atypicalities in autism, in both genetic association and expression studies. A key component of the GABA-ergic system is encoded by the GABRB3 gene, which has been previously implicated both in ASC and in individual differences in empathy. METHODS: In this study, 45 genotyped single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within GABRB3 were tested for association with Asperger syndrome (AS), and related quantitative traits measured through the following tests: the Empathy Quotient (EQ), the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQ-R), the Embedded Figures Test (EFT), the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), and the Mental Rotation Test (MRT). Two-loci, three-loci, four-loci haplotype analyses, and one seven-loci haplotype analysis were also performed in the AS case-control sample. RESULTS: Three SNPs (rs7180158, rs7165604, rs12593579) were significantly associated with AS, and two SNPs (rs9806546, rs11636966) were significantly associated with EQ. Two SNP-SNP pairs, rs12438141-rs1035751 and rs12438141-rs7179514, showed significant association with variation in the EFT scores. One SNP-SNP pair, rs7174437-rs1863455, was significantly associated with variation in the MRT scores. Additionally, a few haplotypes, including a 19 kb genomic region that formed a linkage disequilibrium (LD) block in our sample and contained several nominally significant SNPs, were found to be significantly associated with AS. CONCLUSION: The current study confirms the role of GABRB3 as an important candidate gene in both ASC and normative variation in related endophenotypes.