Altered expression of histamine signaling genes in autism spectrum disorder


The histaminergic system (HS) has a critical role in cognition, sleep and other behaviors. Although not well studied in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the HS is implicated in many neurological disorders, some of which share comorbidity with ASD, including Tourette syndrome (TS). Preliminary studies suggest that antagonism of histamine receptors 1–3 reduces symptoms and specific behaviors in ASD patients and relevant animal models. In addition, the HS mediates neuroinflammation, which may be heightened in ASD. Together, this suggests that the HS may also be altered in ASD. Using RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), we investigated genome-wide expression, as well as a focused gene set analysis of key HS genes (HDC, HNMT, HRH1, HRH2, HRH3 and HRH4) in postmortem dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) initially in 13 subjects with ASD and 39 matched controls. At the genome level, eight transcripts were differentially expressed (false discovery rate <0.05), six of which were small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs). There was no significant diagnosis effect on any of the individual HS genes but expression of the gene set of HNMT, HRH1, HRH2 and HRH3 was significantly altered. Curated HS gene sets were also significantly differentially expressed. Differential expression analysis of these gene sets in an independent RNA-seq ASD data set from DLPFC of 47 additional subjects confirmed these findings. Understanding the physiological relevance of an altered HS may suggest new therapeutic options for the treatment of ASD.

Translational Psychiatry