Anxiety-like behavior and anxiolytic treatment in the Rett syndrome natural history study

J Neurodev Disord. 2022 May 14;14(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s11689-022-09432-2.


Background: Rett syndrome (RTT) is a neurodevelopmental disorder most often related to a pathogenic variant in the X-linked MECP2 gene. Internalizing behaviors appear to be common, but standard methods of diagnosing anxiety are not readily applied in this population which typically has cognitive impairment and limited expressive language. This study aims to describe the frequency of anxiety-like behavior and anxiolytic treatments along with associated clinical features in individuals with RTT.

Methods: Parental reports and medication logs provided data from 1380 females with RTT participating in two iterations of the multicenter U.S. RTT Natural History Study (RNHS) from 2006 to 2019.

Results: Most participants with RTT (77.5%) had at least occasional anxious or nervous behavior. Anxiety was reported to be the most troublesome concern for 2.6%, and within the top 3 concerns for 10.0%, of participants in the second iteration. Parents directly reported treatment for anxious or nervous behavior in 16.6% of participants in the second iteration with most reporting good control of the behavior (71.6%). In the medication logs of both RNHS iterations, the indication of anxiety was listed for a similar number of participants (15% and 14.5%, respectively). Increased use of anxiolytics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) was related to more frequent anxiety-like behaviors (P < 0.001), older age (P < 0.001), and mild MECP2 variants (P = 0.002).

Conclusion: Anxiety-like behavior is frequent at all ages and is a significant parental concern in RTT. Older individuals and those with mild MECP2 variants are more likely to be treated with medications. Better diagnosis and treatment of anxiety in RTT should be a goal of both future studies and clinical care.

Trial registration: NCT00299312 and NCT02738281.

Keywords: Anti-anxiety agents; Anxiety; Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2; Natural history studies; Rett syndrome.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Anxiety Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Rett Syndrome* / complications
  • Rett Syndrome* / drug therapy
  • Rett Syndrome* / epidemiology


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents

Associated data