An autism endophenotype may be identified on the basis of family psychopathology, but not in the direction you may think.

A review of: Lajiness-O’Neill, R., Menard, P. (2007). Brief Report: An Autistic Spectrum Subtype Revealed Through Familial Psychopathology Coupled with Cognition in ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-007-0464-3

A genotype refers to a specific genetic profile. A phenotype refers to the presentation (behaviors, physical features, etc) of a genotype. An endophenotype refers to specific characteristics (biological, social, cultural, etc, etc) that may influence the expression of a disorder-related genotype. In this very interesting study the researchers examined parental psychiatric history and the neurocognitive functioning of 24 kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (5 Autism, 7 Asperger’s, 12 PDD NOS; average age 9.16) and 49 children with learning disability but not autism. Autism diagnosis was based on DSM-IV criteria via CARS and ADI-R. The researchers found a significant higher rate of mood disorders and anxiety on the maternal side of children with ASD as compared to children with LD. There was a significant higher rate of learning disabilities and ADHD in the paternal side of children with ASD as compared to children with LD. A surprising finding was noted: Children with ASD who had a history of mood disorders in the maternal side (n=9), demonstrated significantly higher visuospatial functioning when compared to children with ASD who did not have a maternal history of mood disorders (n=14). The authors reported that this is consistent with a different study that found maternal mood disorders to be associated with elevated cognitive and adaptive functioning in children with ASD (Cohen and Tsiouris, 2006). Thus, although maternal mood disorders were more common in children with ASDs than in children with LDs, high rates of of these mood disorders seem to serve a neuroprotective function.

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