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Whole-exome DNA sequencing in childhood anxiety disorders identifies rare de novo damaging coding variants.

BACKGROUND: Genetic factors contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, yet few risk genes have been previously identified. One genomic approach that has achieved success in identifying risk genes in related childhood neuropsychiatric conditions is investigations of de novo variants, which has yet to be leveraged in childhood anxiety disorders.

METHODS: We performed whole-exome DNA sequencing in 76 parent-child trios (68 trios after quality control) recruited from a childhood anxiety disorder clinic and compared rates of rare and ultra-rare de novo variants with 790 previously sequenced control trios (783 trios after quality control). We then explored overlap with risk genes for other neuropsychiatric conditions and enrichment in biologic pathways.

RESULTS: Rare and ultra-rare de novo likely gene disrupting and predicted damaging missense genetic variants are enriched in anxiety disorder probands compared with controls (rare variant rate ratio 1.97, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.11-3.34, p = .03; ultra-rare variant rate ratio 2.59, 95% CI: 1.35-4.70, p = .008). These de novo damaging variants occur in individuals with a variety of childhood anxiety disorders and impact genes that have been associated with other neuropsychiatric conditions. Exploratory network analyses reveal enrichment of deleterious variants in canonical biological pathways.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide a path for identifying risk genes and promising biologic pathways in childhood anxiety disorders by de novo genetic variant detection. Our results suggest the discovery potential of applying this approach in larger anxiety disorder cohorts to advance our understanding of the underlying biology of these common and debilitating conditions.

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