Autistic disorder is a pervasive developmental disorder considered to have a multigenic origin. Mental retardation is present in 75% of autistic patients. Autistic features are found in Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder affecting girls and associated with severe mental retardation. Recently, the gene responsible for the Rett syndrome, methyl CpG-binding protein (MECP2) gene, was identified on the X chromosome by a candidate gene strategy. Mutations in this gene were also observed in some mentally retarded males. In this study we tested MECP2 as a candidate gene in autistic disorder by a DGGE analysis of its coding region and intron-exon boundaries. Among 59 autistic patients, 42 males and 17 females, mentally retarded or not, no mutations or polymorphisms were present in the MECP2 gene. Taking into account the size of our sample, we conclude that MECP2 coding sequence mutations are not an important factor (less than 5% of cases) in the aetiology of autistic disorder.