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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • fragile X syndrome;
  • fragile X premutation;
  • FMR1;
  • language;
  • broad autism phenotype

Abstract

Substantial phenotypic overlap exists between fragile X syndrome (FXS) and autism, suggesting that FMR1 (the gene causing FXS) poses a significant risk for autism. Cross-population comparisons of FXS and autism therefore offer a potentially valuable method for refining the range of phenotypes associated with variation in FMR1. This study adopted a broader phenotype approach, focusing on parents who are at increased genetic liability for autism or FXS. Women who were carriers of FMR1 in its premutation state were compared with mothers of individuals with autism, and controls in an attempt to determine whether subtle features of the broad autism phenotype may express at elevated rates among FMR1 premutation carriers. The principal personality and language features comprising the broad autism phenotype (i.e., rigid and aloof personality, and particular patterns of pragmatic language use) were assessed among 49 premutation carriers who were mothers of individuals with FXS, 89 mothers of individuals with autism, and 23 mothers of typically developing individuals. Relative to controls, the autism and premutation parent groups showed elevated rates of certain personality and language characteristics of the broad autism phenotype. Findings suggest partially overlapping personality and language profiles among autism and premutation parent groups, with rigid personality style and patterns of pragmatic language use emerging as features most clearly shared between groups. These results provide further evidence for the overlap of autism and FXS, and may implicate FMR1 in some of the subtle features comprising the broad autism phenotype. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.