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PLoS One. 2010 May 28;5(5):e10887. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010887.

Dissecting the clinical heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorders through defined genotypes.

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  • 1Department of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands. h.bruining@Umcutrecht.nl



The etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is largely determined by different genetic factors of variable impact. This genetic heterogeneity could be a factor to explain the clinical heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorders. Here, a first attempt is made to assess whether genetically more homogeneous ASD groups are associated with decreased phenotypic heterogeneity with respect to their autistic symptom profile.


The autistic phenotypes of ASD subjects with 22q11 deletion syndrome (22q11DS) and ASD subjects with Klinefelter Syndrome (KS) were statistically compared to the symptom profile of a large (genetically) heterogeneous ASD sample. Autism diagnostic interview-revised (ADI-R) variables were entered in different statistical analyses to assess differences in symptom homogeneity and the feasibility of discrimination of group-specific ASD-symptom profiles.


The results showed substantially higher symptom homogeneity in both the genetic disorder ASD groups in comparison to the heterogeneous ASD sample. In addition, a robust discrimination between 22q11-ASD and KS-ASD and idiopathic ASD phenotypes was feasible on the basis of a reduced number of autistic scales and symptoms. The lack of overlap in discriminating subscales and symptoms between KS-ASD and 22q11DS-ASD suggests that their autistic symptom profiles cluster around different points in the total diagnostic space of profiles present in the general ASD population.


The findings of the current study indicate that the clinical heterogeneity of ASDs may be reduced when subgroups based on a specific genotype are extracted from the idiopathic ASD population. The current strategy involving the widely used ADI-R offers a relatively straightforward possibility for assessing genotype-phenotype ASD relationships. Reverse phenotype strategies are becoming more feasible, given the accumulating evidence for the existence of genetic variants of large effect in a substantial proportion of the ASD population.

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