Adenosine deaminase (ADA) plays a relevant role in purine metabolism, immune responses, and peptidase activity, which may be altered in some autistic patients. Codominant ADA1 and ADA2 alleles code for ADA1 and ADA2 allozymes, the most frequent protein isoforms in the general population. Individuals carrying one copy of the ADA2 allele display 15 to 20% lower catalytic activity compared to ADA1 homozygotes. Recent preliminary data suggest that ADA2 alleles may be more frequent among autistic patients than healthy controls. The present study was undertaken to replicate these findings in a new case-control study, to test for linkage/association using a family-based design, and to characterize ADA2-carrying patients by serotonin blood levels, peptiduria, and head circumference. ADA2 alleles were significantly more frequent in 91 Caucasian autistic patients of Italian descent than in 152 unaffected controls (17.6% vs. 7.9%, P = 0.018), as well as among their fathers. Family-based tests involving these 91 singleton families, as well as 44 additional Caucasian-American trios, did not support significant linkage/association. However, the observed preferential maternal transmission of ADA2 alleles, if replicated, may point toward linkage disequilibrium between the ADA2 polymorphism and an imprinted gene variant located in its vicinity. Racial and ethnic differences in ADA allelic distributions, together with the low frequency of the ADA2 allele, may pose methodological problems to future linkage/association studies. Direct assessments of ADA catalytic activity in autistic individuals and unaffected siblings carrying ADA1/ADA1 vs ADA1/ADA2 genotypes may provide stronger evidence of ADA2 contributions to autistic disorder. Am. J. Med. Genet. (Neuropsychiatr. Genet.) 96:784-790, 2000.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.