The differential impact of oxytocin receptor (OXTR) genotypes on the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and resulting social communication deficits
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Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is multifactorial and is likely the result of complex interactions between multiple environmental and genetic factors. Recently, it has been suggested that each symptom cluster of the disorder, such as poor social communication, may be mediated by different genetic influences. Genes in the oxytocin pathway, which mediates social behaviours in humans, have been studied with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) being implicated in ASD. This thesis examines the presence of different oxytocin receptor genotypes, and their associations with ASD and resulting social communication deficits. Methods: The relationship between four OXTR variants and ASD was evaluated in 607 ASD simplex (SPX) families. Cases were compared to their unaffected siblings using a conditional logistic approach. Odds ratios and associated 95 percent confidence intervals were obtained. A second sample of 235 individuals with a diagnosis of ASD was examined to evaluate whether these four OXTR variants were associated with social communication scores on the Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R). Parameter estimates and associated 95 percent confidence intervals were generated using a linear regression approach. Multiple testing issues were addressed using false discovery adjustments. Results: The rs53576 AG genotype was significantly associated with a lower risk of ASD (OR = 0.707, 95% CI: 0.512-0.975). A single genotype (AG) provided by the rs2254298 marker was found to be significantly associated with higher social communication scores (Parameter estimate = 1.833, SE = 0.762, p = 0.0171). This association was also seen in a Caucasian only and mothers as the respondent samples. No association was significant following false discovery rate adjustments. Conclusion: The findings from these studies provide limited support for the role of OXTR SNPs in ASD, especially in social communication skills. The clinical significance of these associations remains unknown, however, it is likely that these associations do not play a role in the severity of symptoms associated with ASD. Rather, they may be important in the appearance of social deficits due to the rs2254298 markers association with enlarged amygdalas.