Language and traits of autism spectrum conditions: evidence of limited phenotypic and etiological overlap.
ABSTRACT: Language difficulties have historically been viewed as integral to autism spectrum conditions (ASC), leading molecular genetic studies to consider whether ASC and language difficulties have overlapping genetic bases. The extent of genetic, and also environmental, overlap between ASC and language is, however, unclear. We hence conducted a twin study of the concurrent association between autistic traits and receptive language abilities. Internet-based language tests were completed by ~3,000 pairs of twins, while autistic traits were assessed via parent ratings. Twin model fitting explored the association between these measures in the full sample, while DeFries-Fulker analysis tested these associations at the extremes of the sample. Phenotypic associations between language ability and autistic traits were modest and negative. The degree of genetic overlap was also negative, indicating that genetic influences on autistic traits lowered language scores in the full sample (mean genetic correlation?=?-0.13). Genetic overlap was also low at the extremes of the sample (mean genetic correlation?=?0.14), indicating that genetic influences on quantitatively defined language difficulties were largely distinct from those on extreme autistic traits. Variation in language ability and autistic traits were also associated with largely different nonshared environmental influences. Language and autistic traits are influenced by largely distinct etiological factors. This has implications for molecular genetic studies of ASC and understanding the etiology of ASC. Additionally, these findings lend support to forthcoming DSM-5 changes to ASC diagnostic criteria that will see language difficulties separated from the core ASC communication symptoms, and instead listed as a clinical specifier.
Project description:Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) regularly co-occur. Twin studies increasingly indicate that these conditions may have overlapping genetic causes. Less is known about the degree to which specific autistic traits relate to specific behaviours characteristic of ADHD. We hence tested, using the classical twin design, whether specific dimensional autistic traits, including social difficulties, communication atypicalities and repetitive behaviours, would display differential degrees of aetiological overlap with specific traits of ADHD, including hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention. Parents of approximately 4,000 pairs of 12-year-old twins completed the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test and Conners' Parent Rating Scale. These measures were divided into subscales corresponding to different types of autistic and ADHD behaviours. Twin model fitting suggested that the degree of genetic overlap was particularly strong between communication difficulties and traits of ADHD (genetic correlations = .47-.51), while repetitive behaviours and social difficulties showed moderate (genetic correlations = .12-.33) and modest (.05-.11) genetic overlap respectively. Environmental overlap was low across all subscales (correlations = .01-.23). These patterns were also apparent at the extremes of the general population, with communication difficulties showing the highest genetic overlap with traits of ADHD. These findings indicate that molecular genetic studies seeking to uncover the shared genetic basis of ASC and ADHD would benefit from taking a symptom-specific approach. Furthermore, they could also help to explain why studies of the communication abilities of individuals with ASC and ADHD have produced overlapping findings.
Project description:Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction, alongside unusually repetitive behaviours and narrow interests. Asperger Syndrome (AS) is one subgroup of ASC and differs from classic autism in that in AS there is no language or general cognitive delay. Genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors are implicated in ASC and genes involved in neural connectivity and neurodevelopment are good candidates for studying the susceptibility to ASC. The aryl-hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator 2 (ARNT2) gene encodes a transcription factor involved in neurodevelopmental processes, neuronal connectivity and cellular responses to hypoxia. A mutation in this gene has been identified in individuals with ASC and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been nominally associated with AS and autistic traits in previous studies.In this study, we tested 34 SNPs in ARNT2 for association with AS in 118 cases and 412 controls of Caucasian origin. P values were adjusted for multiple comparisons, and linkage disequilibrium (LD) among the SNPs analysed was calculated in our sample. Finally, SNP annotation allowed functional and structural analyses of the genetic variants in ARNT2. We tested the replicability of our result using the genome-wide association studies (GWAS) database of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC).We report statistically significant association of rs17225178 with AS. This SNP modifies transcription factor binding sites and regions that regulate the chromatin state in neural cell lines. It is also included in a LD block in our sample, alongside other genetic variants that alter chromatin regulatory regions in neural cells.These findings demonstrate that rs17225178 in the ARNT2 gene is associated with AS and support previous studies that pointed out an involvement of this gene in the predisposition to ASC.
Project description:Limited studies have investigated the latent autistic traits in the mainland Chinese population for autism spectrum conditions (ASC). This study explored the psychometric properties of a Mandarin Chinese version of the CAST in a sample consisting of 737 children in mainstream schools and 50 autistic cases. A combination of categorical data factor analysis and item response theory suggested a good-fit model of a two-factor solution for 28 items on the Mandarin CAST including social and communication, and inflexible/stereotyped language and behaviours (Goodness-of-fit indices: RMSEA = 0.029, CFI = 0.957, TLI = 0.950, SRMR = 0.064). The correlation between the two factors was moderate (GFC = 0.425). This study provided evidence for the CAST as a multidimensional measure for ASC screening in a Chinese population and also showed that the symptom manifestation of ASC in Chinese children shares similarity with western populations.
Project description:Callous-unemotional (CU) traits, such as lacking empathy and emotional insensitivity, predict the onset, severity, and persistence of antisocial behavior. CU traits are heritable, and genetic influences on CU traits contribute to antisocial behavior. This study examines genetic overlap between CU traits and general domains of personality. We measured CU traits using the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (ICU) and Big Five personality using the Big Five Inventory in a sample of adolescent twins from the Texas Twin Project. Genetic influences on the Big Five personality dimensions could account for the entirety of genetic influences on CU traits. Item Response Theory results indicate that the Inventory of Callous and Unemotional Traits is better at detecting clinically relevant personality variation at lower extremes of personality trait continua, particularly low agreeableness and low conscientiousness. The proximate biological mechanisms that mediate genetic liabilities for CU traits remain an open question. The results of the current study suggest that understanding the development of normal personality may inform understanding of the genetic underpinnings of callous and unemotional behavior.
Project description:Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are characterised by deficits in understanding and expressing emotions and are frequently accompanied by alexithymia, a difficulty in understanding and expressing emotion words. Words are differentially represented in the brain according to their semantic category and these difficulties in ASC predict reduced activation to emotion-related words in limbic structures crucial for affective processing. Semantic theories view 'emotion actions' as critical for learning the semantic relationship between a word and the emotion it describes, such that emotion words typically activate the cortical motor systems involved in expressing emotion actions such as facial expressions. As ASC are also characterised by motor deficits and atypical brain structure and function in these regions, motor structures would also be expected to show reduced activation during emotion-semantic processing. Here we used event-related fMRI to compare passive processing of emotion words in comparison to abstract verbs and animal names in typically-developing controls and individuals with ASC. Relatively reduced brain activation in ASC for emotion words, but not matched control words, was found in motor areas and cingulate cortex specifically. The degree of activation evoked by emotion words in the motor system was also associated with the extent of autistic traits as revealed by the Autism Spectrum Quotient. We suggest that hypoactivation of motor and limbic regions for emotion word processing may underlie difficulties in processing emotional language in ASC. The role that sensorimotor systems and their connections might play in the affective and social-communication difficulties in ASC is discussed.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Both people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are significantly challenged in terms of understanding and responding to emotions and in interpersonal functioning.<h4>Aims</h4>To compare ASC, BPD, and comorbid patients in terms of autistic traits, empathy, and systemizing.<h4>Methods</h4>624 ASC, 23 BPD, and 16 comorbid (ASC+BPD) patients, and 2,081 neurotypical controls (NC) filled in the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and the Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQ-R).<h4>Results</h4>On the AQ, the comorbid group scored higher than the ASC group, who in turn scored higher than the BPD group, who scored higher than controls. On the EQ, we found the comorbid and ASC groups scored lower than the BPD group, who were not different from controls. Finally, on the SQ-R, we found the ASC and BPD group both scored higher than controls.<h4>Conclusions</h4>Similar to ASC, BPD patients have elevated autistic traits and a strong drive to systemize, suggesting an overlap between BPD and ASC.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Difficulties in appropriate social interaction are characteristic of both children with autism spectrum disorders and children with callous-unemotional traits (who are at risk of developing psychopathy). Extant experimental studies suggest that the nature of atypical social cognition that characterises these two profiles is not identical. However, 'empathizing' difficulties have been hypothesised for both groups, raising questions about the degree of aetiological separation between social impairments that characterize each disorder. This study explored the relative contribution of independent vs. shared aetiological influences to social and communication impairments associated with autistic traits and callous-unemotional traits, indexed by parent-report in a population-based cohort of twins. METHODS:Participants were over 5,000 twin pairs from a UK cohort (the Twins Early Development Study; TEDS), assessed for callous-unemotional traits at 7 years and autistic social and communication impairments at 8 years. Multivariate model-fitting was used to explore the relative contribution of independent vs. overlapping genetic/environmental influences on these traits. RESULTS:Both social and communication impairments and callous-unemotional traits were highly heritable, although the genetic and environmental influences accounting for individual differences on each domain were predominantly independent. CONCLUSIONS:Extant evidence from experimental and neuro-imaging studies has suggested that, despite some superficially overlapping behaviours, the social difficulties seen in children with autism spectrum disorders and callous-unemotional traits are largely distinct. The current study is the first to demonstrate considerable aetiological independence of the social interaction difficulties seen in children with autism spectrum disorders and those with callous-unemotional traits.
Project description:BACKGROUND:?Supernumerary sex chromosome aneuploidies (X/Y-aneuploidies), the presence of extra X and/or Y chromosomes, are associated with heightened rates of language impairments and social difficulties. However, no single study has examined different language domains and social functioning in the same sample of children with tri-, tetra-, and pentasomy X/Y-aneuploidy. The current research sought to fill this gap in the literature and to examine dosage effects of X and Y chromosomes on language and social functioning. METHODS:Participants included 110 youth with X/Y-aneuploidies (32 female) and 52 with typical development (25 female) matched on age (mean ?12?years; range 4-22) and maternal education. Participants completed the Wechsler intelligence scales, and parents completed the children's communication checklist-2 and the social responsiveness scale to assess language skills and autistic traits, respectively. RESULTS:Both supernumerary X and Y chromosomes were related to depressed structural and pragmatic language skills and increased autistic traits. The addition of a Y chromosome had a disproportionately greater impact on pragmatic language; the addition of one or more X chromosomes had a disproportionately greater impact on structural language. CONCLUSIONS:Given that we link extra X chromosomes with structural language impairments and an extra Y chromosome with pragmatic language impairments, X/Y-aneuploidies may provide clues to genetic mechanisms contributing to idiopathic language impairment and autism spectrum disorders.
Project description:Visual disengagement has been hypothesized as an endophenotype for autism. In this study we used twin modelling to assess the role of genetics in basic measures of visual disengagement, and tested their putative association to autistic traits in the general population. We used the Gap Overlap task in a sample of 492 twins. Results showed that most of the covariance among eye movement latencies across conditions was shared and primarily genetic. Further, there were unique genetic contributions to the Gap condition, but not to the Overlap condition-i.e. the one theorized to capture visual disengagement. We found no phenotypic association between autistic traits and disengagement, thus not supporting the hypothesis of visual disengagement as an endophenotype for autistic traits.
Project description:Difficulties in social communication are part of the phenotypic overlap between autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia. Both conditions follow, however, distinct developmental patterns. Symptoms of ASD typically occur during early childhood, whereas most symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia do not appear before early adulthood. We investigated whether overlap in common genetic influences between these clinical conditions and impairments in social communication depends on the developmental stage of the assessed trait. Social communication difficulties were measured in typically-developing youth (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, N⩽5553, longitudinal assessments at 8, 11, 14 and 17 years) using the Social Communication Disorder Checklist. Data on clinical ASD (PGC-ASD: 5305 cases, 5305 pseudo-controls; iPSYCH-ASD: 7783 cases, 11 359 controls) and schizophrenia (PGC-SCZ2: 34 241 cases, 45 604 controls, 1235 trios) were either obtained through the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) or the Danish iPSYCH project. Overlap in genetic influences between ASD and social communication difficulties during development decreased with age, both in the PGC-ASD and the iPSYCH-ASD sample. Genetic overlap between schizophrenia and social communication difficulties, by contrast, persisted across age, as observed within two independent PGC-SCZ2 subsamples, and showed an increase in magnitude for traits assessed during later adolescence. ASD- and schizophrenia-related polygenic effects were unrelated to each other and changes in trait-disorder links reflect the heterogeneity of genetic factors influencing social communication difficulties during childhood versus later adolescence. Thus, both clinical ASD and schizophrenia share some genetic influences with impairments in social communication, but reveal distinct developmental profiles in their genetic links, consistent with the onset of clinical symptoms.