In silico Gene Set and Pathway Enrichment Analyses Highlight Involvement of Ion Transport in Cholinergic Pathways in Autism: Rationale for Nutritional Intervention




Olson, Audrey
Zhang, Fuquan
Baranova, Ancha
Slavin, Margaret

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Food is the primary human source of choline, an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which has a central role in signaling pathways that govern sensorimotor functions. Most Americans do not consume their recommended amount of dietary choline, and populations with neurodevelopmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be particularly vulnerable to consequences of choline deficiency. This study aimed to identify a relationship between ASD and cholinergic signaling through gene set enrichment analysis and interrogation of existing database evidence to produce a systems biology model. In gene set enrichment analysis, two gene ontologies were identified as overlapping for autism- related and for cholinergic pathways-related functions, both involving ion transport regulation. Subsequent modeling of ion transport intensive cholinergic signaling pathways highlighted the importance of two genes with autism-associated variants: GABBR1, which codes for the gamma aminobutyric acid receptor (GABAB 1), and KCNN2, which codes for calcium-activated, potassium ion transporting SK2 channels responsible for membrane repolarization after cholinergic binding/signal transmission events. Cholinergic signal transmission pathways related to these proteins were examined in the Pathway Studio environment. The ion transport ontological associations indicated feasibility of a dietary choline support as a low-risk therapeutic intervention capable of modulating cholinergic sensory signaling in autism. Further research at the intersection of dietary status and sensory function in autism is warranted.



Autism, Choline