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Mol Psychiatry. 2002;7(7):795-800.

Serotonin transporter gene promoter variants do not explain the hyperserotoninemia in autistic children.

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Laboratory of Neuroscience, Interdisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research (CIR), Università Campus Bio-Medico, Via Longoni 83, I-00155 Rome, Italy.


Autism is a biologically-heterogeneous disease. Distinct subgroups of autistic patients may be marked by intermediate phenotypes, such as elevated serotonin (5-HT) blood levels, potentially associated with different underlying disease mechanisms. This could lead to inconsistent genetic association results, such as those of prior studies on serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene promoter variants and autistic disorder. Contributions of 5-HTT gene promoter alleles to 5-HT blood levels were thus investigated in 134 autistic patients and 291 first-degree relatives. Mean 5-HT blood levels are 11% higher in autistic patients carrying the L/L genotype, compared to patients with the S/S or S/L genotype; this trend is not observed in first-degree relatives. The probability of inheriting L or S alleles is significantly enhanced in patients with 5-HT blood levels above or below the mean, respectively (P < 0.05), but quantitative TDT analyses yield a non-significant trend (P = 0.10), as this polymorphism explains only 2.5% of the variance in 5-HT blood levels of autistic patients. In conclusion, 5-HTT gene promoter variants seemingly exert a small effect on 5-HT blood levels in autistic children, which largely does not account for hyperserotoninemia. Nonetheless, the inconsistent outcome of prior association studies could partly stem from a selection bias of hyper- or hypo-serotoninemic probands.

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