Objectives: To assess whether aberrant methylation marks could be, at least in part, responsible for the ASD phenotype in patients conceived using fertility treatments (FT).
Methods: DNA from blood samples of controls (N=12), and ASD patients conceived with FT (N=12) or without FT (N=12) were run on the Illumina HumanMethylation27 microarray. To assess global DNA methylation the Mann-Whitney U test was used to compare the mean methylation of all probes between groups and also compared after dividing the probes into bins of 10% methylation intervals. For targeted analysis the Mann-Whitney U test with FDR was used to compare the average beta methylation values of ASD-FT samples against controls. A stringent novel individual analysis was used to generate a list of genes with significantly increased variance. At least one sample in each ASD group was required to have a 17% DNA methylation difference greater or less than the average of controls.
Results: The global analysis identified a statistically significant reduction in methylation was observed in the ASD-FT group compared to either controls (p=0.006) or the ASD group (p=0.015). A statistically significant increase in number of probes was observed in the 0-0.1 bin within the ASD-FT group compared to controls (p=0.001) and the ASD group (p=0.007). A statistically significant decrease in the number of probes was observed in the 0.1-0.2 bin in the ASD-FT group compared to controls (p=0.005) and to ASD group (p=0.008). Statistical analysis for targeted DNA methylation variants did not reveal any significant changes. In the targeted analysis, 17 and 84 genes were respectively identified in the ASD and ASD-FT groups, suggesting higher variability in DNA methylation in ASD-FT group. The gene list was compared to a list of known imprinted genes, and a loss of DNA methylation was observed at two CpG sites in a CpG island associated with the imprinted gene DIRAS3 in ASD-FT, but not in the ASD group.
Conclusions: We found a global loss of DNA methylation at CpG sites with reduced levels of methylation in the ASD-FT group. Our data also suggest higher levels of methylation variability in ASD-FT compared to the ASD group conceived without fertility treatments. These data provide an opportunity to study the role of DNA methylation dysregulation in ASD susceptibility.