Autism spectrum disorder at the crossroad between genes and environment: contributions, convergences, and interactions in ASD developmental pathophysiology
The complex pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorder encompasses interactions between genetic and environmental factors. On the one hand, hundreds of genes, converging at the functional level on selective biological domains such as epigenetic regulation and synaptic function, have been identified to be either causative or risk factors of autism. On the other hand, exposure to chemicals that are widespread in the environment, such as endocrine disruptors, has been associated with adverse effects on human health, including neurodevelopmental disorders. Interestingly, experimental results suggest an overlap in the regulatory pathways perturbed by genetic mutations and environmental factors, depicting convergences and complex interplays between genetic susceptibility and toxic insults. The pervasive nature of chemical exposure poses pivotal challenges for neurotoxicological studies, regulatory agencies, and policy makers. This highlights an emerging need of developing new integrative models, including biomonitoring, epidemiology, experimental, and computational tools, able to capture real-life scenarios encompassing the interaction between chronic exposure to mixture of substances and individuals’ genetic backgrounds. In this review, we address the intertwined roles of genetic lesions and environmental insults. Specifically, we outline the transformative potential of stem cell models, coupled with omics analytical approaches at increasingly single cell resolution, as converging tools to experimentally dissect the pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as to improve developmental neurotoxicology risk assessment.