Background: It has been suggested that efforts to identify genetic risk markers of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) would benefit from the analysis of more narrowly defined ASD phenotypes. Previous research indicates that 'insistence on sameness' (IS) and 'repetitive sensory-motor actions' (RSMA) are two factors within the ASD 'repetitive and stereotyped behavior' domain. The primary aim of this study was to identify genetic risk markers of both factors to allow comparison of those markers with one another and with markers found in the same set of pedigrees using ASD diagnosis as the phenotype. Thus, we empirically addresses the possibilities that more narrowly defined phenotypes improve linkage analysis signals and that different narrowly defined phenotypes are associated with different loci. Secondary aims were to examine the correlates of IS and RSMA and to assess the heritability of both scales.
Methods: A genome-wide linkage analysis was conducted with a sample of 70 multiplex ASD pedigrees using IS and RSMA as phenotypes. Genotyping services were provided by the Center for Inherited Disease Research using the 6 K single nucleotide polymorphism linkage panel. Analysis was done using the multipoint linkage software program MCLINK, a Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method that allows for multilocus linkage analysis on large extended pedigrees.
Results: Genome-wide significance was observed for IS at 2q37.1-q37.3 (dominant model heterogeneity lod score (hlod) 3.42) and for RSMA at 15q13.1-q14 (recessive model hlod 3.93). We found some linkage signals that overlapped and others that were not observed in our previous linkage analysis of the ASD phenotype in the same pedigrees, and regions varied in the range of phenotypes with which they were linked. A new finding with respect to IS was that it is positively associated with IQ if the IS-RSMA correlation is statistically controlled.
Conclusions: The finding that IS and RSMA are linked to different regions that only partially overlap regions previously identified with ASD as the phenotype supports the value of including multiple, narrowly defined phenotypes in ASD genetic research. Further, we replicated previous reports indicating that RSMA is more strongly associated than IS with measures of ASD severity.