Autism spectrum disorder and epileptic encephalopathy: common causes, many questions

J Neurodev Disord. 2017 Jun 23:9:23. doi: 10.1186/s11689-017-9202-0. eCollection 2017.


Epileptic encephalopathies represent a particularly severe form of epilepsy, associated with cognitive and behavioral deficits, including impaired social-communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors that are the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With the advent of next-generation sequencing, the genetic landscape of epileptic encephalopathies is growing and demonstrates overlap with genes separately implicated in ASD. However, many questions remain about this connection, including whether epileptiform activity itself contributes to the development of ASD symptomatology. In this review, we compiled a database of genes associated with both epileptic encephalopathy and ASD, limiting our purview to Mendelian disorders not including inborn errors of metabolism, and we focused on the connection between ASD and epileptic encephalopathy rather than epilepsy broadly. Our review has four goals: to (1) discuss the overlapping presentations of ASD and monogenic epileptic encephalopathies; (2) examine the impact of the epilepsy itself on neurocognitive features, including ASD, in monogenic epileptic encephalopathies; (3) outline many of the genetic causes responsible for both ASD and epileptic encephalopathy; (4) provide an illustrative example of a final common pathway that may be implicated in both ASD and epileptic encephalopathy. We demonstrate that autistic features are a common association with monogenic epileptic encephalopathies. Certain epileptic encephalopathy syndromes, like infantile spasms, are especially linked to the development of ASD. The connection between seizures themselves and neurobehavioral deficits in these monogenic encephalopathies remains open to debate. Finally, advances in genetics have revealed many genes that overlap in ties to both ASD and epileptic encephalopathy and that play a role in diverse central nervous system processes. Increased attention to the autistic features of monogenic epileptic encephalopathies is warranted for both researchers and clinicians alike.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Epileptic encephalopathy; Mendelian disorders.

Publication types

  • Review