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Brain Dev. 1999 Dec;21(8):548-53.

Sleep abnormalities in mentally retarded autistic subjects: Down's syndrome with mental retardation and normal subjects.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Neuroscienze Universit√† Tor Vegata, Roma, Italy.


We compared sleep parameters in mentally retarded infantile autism (MRIA) and mentally retarded Down's syndrome (MRDS) by means of polysomnography, evaluating traditional analysis with particular attention to the phasic components in each disorder. Data were compared with those obtained in normal subjects matched for age and sex. Mental age, Intellectual Quotient and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale were performed to obtain an estimation of the neuropsychological deficit. Abnormalities of phasic components of sleep and the presence of REM sleep components into non-REM sleep were observed in both MRIA and MRDS even if in different ways. In fact, MRDS subjects presented a reduction of REM sleep percentage and R index (number of high frequency REMs against number of low frequency REMs) and this was positively correlated to a low IQ. Unlike MRDS subjects, MRIA subjects did not show any parallelism between intellectual abilities and REM sleep deficit. In addition, the presence of undifferentiated sleep in autistic subjects implies a maturational deficit that is still present in adulthood. Finally, a high R index in MRIA was observed. This finding, which is not present in MRDS, could represent an estimation of the disorganized arrival of information caused by a dyscontrol or a reduction of inhibitor pathway. With reference to sleep mechanisms, our results suggest that the cognitive deficit in MRIA may differ from that of MRDS subjects. A maturational deficit of CNS with a dysfunction of brainstem monoaminergic neurons could represent the underlying mechanism.

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