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The identification of genetic variants underlying autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may contribute to a better understanding of their underlying biology. To examine the possible role of a specific type of compound heterozygosity in ASD, namely, the occurrence of a deletion together with a functional nucleotide variant on the remaining allele, we sequenced 550 genes in 149 individuals with ASD and their deletion-transmitting parents. This approach allowed us to identify additional sequence variants occurring in the remaining allele of the deletion. Our main goal was to compare the rate of sequence variants in remaining alleles of deleted regions between probands and the deletion-transmitting parents. We also examined the predicted functional effect of the identified variants using Combined Annotation-Dependent Depletion (CADD) scores. The single nucleotide variant-deletion co-occurrence was observed in 13.4% of probands, compared with 8.1% of parents. The cumulative burden of sequence variants (n = 68) in pooled proband sequences was higher than the burden in pooled sequences from the deletion-transmitting parents (n = 41, X2 = 6.69, p = 0.0097). After filtering for those variants predicted to be most deleterious, we observed 21 of such variants in probands versus 8 in their deletion-transmitting parents (X2 = 5.82, p = 0.016). Finally, cumulative CADD scores conferred by these variants were significantly higher in probands than in deletion-transmitting parents (burden test, β = 0.13; p = 1.0 × 10-5). Our findings suggest that the compound heterozygosity described in the current study may be one of several mechanisms explaining variable penetrance of CNVs with known pathogenicity for ASD.

Original publication




Journal article


Translational Psychiatry

Publication Date





Department of Psychiatry, Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.