Purpose: To assess the contribution of rare variants in the genetic background toward variability of neurodevelopmental phenotypes in individuals with rare copy-number variants (CNVs) and gene-disruptive variants. Methods: We analyzed quantitative clinical information, exome sequencing, and microarray data from 757 probands and 233 parents and siblings who carry disease-associated variants. Results: The number of rare likely deleterious variants in functionally intolerant genes (“other hits”) correlated with expression of neurodevelopmental phenotypes in probands with 16p12.1 deletion (n=23, p=0.004) and in autism probands carrying gene-disruptive variants (n=184, p=0.03) compared with their carrier family members. Probands with 16p12.1 deletion and a strong family history presented more severe clinical features (p=0.04) and higher burden of other hits compared with those with mild/no family history (p=0.001). The number of other hits also correlated with severity of cognitive impairment in probands carrying pathogenic CNVs (n=53) or de novo pathogenic variants in disease genes (n=290), and negatively correlated with head size among 80 probands with 16p11.2 deletion. These co-occurring hits involved known disease-associated genes such as SETD5, AUTS2, and NRXN1, and were enriched for cellular and developmental processes. Conclusion: Accurate genetic diagnosis of complex disorders will require complete evaluation of the genetic background even after a candidate disease-associated variant is identified.
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