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Keywords:

  • autism spectrum disorders;
  • genetic syndrome;
  • prevalence;
  • subphenotype;
  • association

Abstract

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a heterogeneous group of neurodevelopmental disabilities with various etiologies, but with a heritability estimate of more than 90%. Although the strong correlation between autism and genetic factors has been long established, the exact genetic background of ASD remains unclear. A number of genetic syndromes manifest ASD at higher than expected frequencies compared to the general population. These syndromes account for more than 10% of all ASD cases and include tuberous sclerosis, fragile X, Down, neurofibromatosis, Angelman, Prader–Willi, Williams, Duchenne, etc. Clinicians are increasingly required to recognize genetic disorders in individuals with ASD, in terms of providing proper care and prognosis to the patient, as well as genetic counseling to the family. Vice versa, it is equally essential to identify ASD in patients with genetic syndromes, in order to ensure correct management and appropriate educational placement. During investigation of genetic syndromes, a number of issues emerge: impact of intellectual disability in ASD diagnoses, identification of autistic subphenotypes and differences from idiopathic autism, validity of assessment tools designed for idiopathic autism, possible mechanisms for the association with ASD, etc. Findings from the study of genetic syndromes are incorporated into the ongoing research on autism etiology and pathogenesis; different syndromes converge upon common biological backgrounds (such as disrupted molecular pathways and brain circuitries), which probably account for their comorbidity with autism. This review paper critically examines the prevalence and characteristics of the main genetic syndromes, as well as the possible mechanisms for their association with ASD. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.