We searched for disruptive, genic rare copy-number variants (CNVs) among 411 families affected by sporadic autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from the Simons Simplex Collection by using available exome sequence data and CoNIFER (Copy Number Inference from Exome Reads). Compared to high-density SNP microarrays, our approach yielded ∼2× more smaller genic rare CNVs. We found that affected probands inherited more CNVs than did their siblings (453 versus 394, p = 0.004; odds ratio [OR] = 1.19) and that the probands' CNVs affected more genes (921 versus 726, p = 0.02; OR = 1.30). These smaller CNVs (median size 18 kb) were transmitted preferentially from the mother (136 maternal versus 100 paternal, p = 0.02), although this bias occurred irrespective of affected status. The excess burden of inherited CNVs among probands was driven primarily by sibling pairs with discordant social-behavior phenotypes (p < 0.0002, measured by Social Responsiveness Scale [SRS] score), which contrasts with families where the phenotypes were more closely matched or less extreme (p > 0.5). Finally, we found enrichment of brain-expressed genes unique to probands, especially in the SRS-discordant group (p = 0.0035). In a combined model, our inherited CNVs, de novo CNVs, and de novo single-nucleotide variants all independently contributed to the risk of autism (p < 0.05). Taken together, these results suggest that small transmitted rare CNVs play a role in the etiology of simplex autism. Importantly, the small size of these variants aids in the identification of specific genes as additional risk factors associated with ASD.
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