A Broader Phenotype of Autism: The Clinical Spectrum in Twins


Requests for reprints to: Dr A. Le Couteur, Academic department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fleming Nuffield Unit, Burdon Terrace, Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 3AE, U.K.


The diagnostic boundaries of the behavioural phenotype for autism were examined in 28 MZ pairs and 20 DZ same-sex twin pairs, where one or both twins had autism. In the non-autistic cotwin (i.e. In twin pairs discordant for autism) it was common to find language impairments in childhood and social deficits persisting into adulthood. Concordance for this broader phenotype was much greater in MZ pairs than DZ pairs, indicating a strong genetic component. Behavioural and cognitive manifestations of autism were compared both within and between MZ twin pairs. The variation was as great within MZ twin pairs as between pairs, suggesting that it does not index genetic heterogeneity (although aetiological heterogeneity probably exists). Current diagnostic practices need re-evaluation.