Role of Genetics in the Etiology of Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Towards a Hierarchical Diagnostic Strategy

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar 12;18(3):618. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030618.


Progress in epidemiological, molecular and clinical genetics with the development of new techniques has improved knowledge on genetic syndromes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The objective of this article is to show the diversity of genetic disorders associated with ASD (based on an extensive review of single-gene disorders, copy number variants, and other chromosomal disorders), and consequently to propose a hierarchical diagnostic strategy with a stepwise evaluation, helping general practitioners/pediatricians and child psychiatrists to collaborate with geneticists and neuropediatricians, in order to search for genetic disorders associated with ASD. The first step is a clinical investigation involving: (i) a child psychiatric and psychological evaluation confirming autism diagnosis from different observational sources and assessing autism severity; (ii) a neuropediatric evaluation examining neurological symptoms and developmental milestones; and (iii) a genetic evaluation searching for dysmorphic features and malformations. The second step involves laboratory and if necessary neuroimaging and EEG studies oriented by clinical results based on clinical genetic and neuropediatric examinations. The identification of genetic disorders associated with ASD has practical implications for diagnostic strategies, early detection or prevention of co-morbidity, specific treatment and follow up, and genetic counseling.

Keywords: autism; child psychiatric and psychological assessment; clinical genetics; genetic disorders; hierarchical diagnostic strategy; neuropediatric evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / etiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / epidemiology*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans