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Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders: The promise of regulatory variation in the 3’UTRome

Wanke, K., Devanna, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders: The promise of regulatory variation in the 3’UTRome. Biological Psychiatry, 83(7), 548-557. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.11.006.
Neurodevelopmental disorders have a strong genetic component, but despite widespread efforts, the specific genetic factors underlying these disorders remain undefined for a large proportion of affected individuals. Given the accessibility of exome-sequencing, this problem has thus far been addressed from a protein-centric standpoint; however, protein-coding regions only make up ∼1-2% of the human genome. With the advent of whole-genome sequencing we are in the midst of a paradigm shift as it is now possible to interrogate the entire sequence of the human genome (coding and non-coding) to fill in the missing heritability of complex disorders. These new technologies bring new challenges, as the number of non-coding variants identified per individual can be overwhelming, making it prudent to focus on non-coding regions of known function, for which the effects of variation can be predicted and directly tested to assess pathogenicity. The 3’UTRome is a region of the non-coding genome that perfectly fulfils these criteria and is of high interest when searching for pathogenic variation related to complex neurodevelopmental disorders. Herein, we review the regulatory roles of the 3’UTRome as binding sites for microRNAs, RNA binding proteins or during alternative polyadenylation. We detail existing evidence that these regions contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders and outline strategies for identification and validation of novel putatively pathogenic variation in these regions. This evidence suggests that studying the 3’UTRome will lead to the identification of new risk factors, new candidate disease genes and a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms contributing to NDDs.

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