Diagnostic criteria for the Zappella variant of Rett syndrome (the preserved speech variant)

Brain Dev. 2009 Mar;31(3):208-16. doi: 10.1016/j.braindev.2008.04.007. Epub 2008 Jun 17.


The preserved speech variant is the milder form of Rett syndrome: affected girls show the same stages of this condition and by the second half of the first decade are making slow progress in manual and verbal abilities. They walk without help, and may be able to make simple drawings and write a few words. Most of them can speak in sentences. Autistic behavior can often be observed. We previously described several cases in the pre-molecular era and subsequently reported a survey of 12 cases with MECP2 mutations. Seventeen new patients with the preserved speech variant and a proven MECP2 mutation have been clinically evaluated. Additional clinical data of our previously described cases are reported. These 29 preserved speech variant cases were compared with 129 classic Rett patients using a clinical severity score system including 22 different signs. There was both statistical and clinical evidence of the existence of this variant. On the basis of their abilities these girls can be distinguished as low-, intermediate- and high-functioning. Girls of the last two groups show a greater homogeneity: they speak in sentences, use their hands more easily, have normal somatic features, mild neurovegetative abnormalities, with autistic behavior in 76%, epilepsy in 30%, while girls of the first group are closer to classic Rett syndrome. The majority of patients carries either missense mutations (especially the p.R133C change) or late truncating mutations in the MECP2 gene. These results confirm the existence of this variant of Rett syndrome (Zappella variant), a clear example of progress of manual and verbal abilities, and not of a "preserved speech" and suggest corresponding diagnostic criteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Rett Syndrome / classification
  • Rett Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Rett Syndrome / genetics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Speech Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Speech Disorders / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • MECP2 protein, human
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2