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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 8;5(9):e12633. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012633.

Traits contributing to the autistic spectrum.

Author information

  • 1Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom. Colin.Steer@bristol.ac.uk

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

It is increasingly recognised that traits associated with autism reflect a spectrum with no clear boundary between typical and atypical behaviour. Dimensional traits are needed to investigate the broader autism phenotype.

METHODS AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Ninety-three individual measures reflecting components of social, communication and repetitive behaviours characterising autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) were identified between the ages of 6 months and 9 years from the ALSPAC database. Using missing value imputation, data for 13,138 children were analysed. Factor analysis suggested the existence of 7 factors explaining 85% of the variance. The factors were labelled: verbal ability, language acquisition, social understanding, semantic-pragmatic skills, repetitive-stereotyped behaviour, articulation and social inhibition. Four factors (1, 3, 5 and 7) were specific to ASD being more strongly associated with this phenotype than other co-morbid conditions while other factors were more associated with learning difficulties and specific language impairment. Nevertheless, all 7 factors contributed independently to the explanation of ASD (p<0.001). Exploration of putative genetic causal factors such as variants in the CNTNAP2 gene showed a varying pattern of associations with these traits. An alternative predictive model of ASD was derived using four individual measures: the coherence subscale of the Children's Communication Checklist (9y), the Social and Communication Disorders Checklist (91 m), repetitive behaviour (69 m) and the sociability subscale of the Emotionality Activity and Sociability measure (38 m). Although univarably these traits performed better than some factors, their combined explanations of ASD were similar (R(2) =  0.48).

CONCLUSIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE:

These results support the fractional nature of ASD with different aetiological origins for these components despite pleiotropic genetic effects being observed. These traits are likely to be useful in the exploration of ASD.

PMID:
20838614
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2935882
Free PMC Article

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