Objective: To determine how neuroanatomic variation in children and adolescents with fragile X syndrome is linked to reduced levels of the fragile X mental retardation-1 protein and to aberrant cognition and behavior.
Methods: This study included 84 children and adolescents with the fragile X full mutation and 72 typically developing control subjects matched for age and sex. Brain morphology was assessed with volumetric, voxel-based, and surface-based modeling approaches. Intelligence quotient was evaluated with standard cognitive testing, whereas abnormal behaviors were measured with the Autism Behavior Checklist and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist.
Results: Significantly increased size of the caudate nucleus and decreased size of the posterior cerebellar vermis, amygdala, and superior temporal gyrus were present in the fragile X group. Subjects with fragile X also demonstrated an abnormal profile of cortical lobe volumes. A receiver operating characteristic analysis identified the combination of a large caudate with small posterior cerebellar vermis, amygdala, and superior temporal gyrus as distinguishing children with fragile X from control subjects with a high level of sensitivity and specificity. Large caudate and small posterior cerebellar vermis were associated with lower fragile X mental retardation protein levels and more pronounced cognitive deficits and aberrant behaviors.
Interpretation: Abnormal development of specific brain regions characterizes a neuroanatomic phenotype associated with fragile X syndrome and may mediate the effects of FMR1 gene mutations on the cognitive and behavioral features of the disorder. Fragile X syndrome provides a model for elucidating critical linkages among gene, brain, and cognition in children with serious neurodevelopmental disorders.