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Psychiatric illness and regression in individuals with Phelan-McDermid syndrome

  • Kohlenberg, Teresa M.1
  • Trelles, M. Pilar2, 2
  • McLarney, Brittany3
  • Betancur, Catalina4
  • Thurm, Audrey5
  • Kolevzon, Alexander2, 2
  • 1 University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA , Worcester (United States)
  • 2 Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA , New York (United States)
  • 3 Phelan-McDermid Syndrome Foundation, Osprey, FL, USA , Osprey (United States)
  • 4 Sorbonne Université, INSERM, CNRS, Neuroscience Paris Seine, Institut de Biologie Paris Seine, Paris, France , Paris (France)
  • 5 National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA , Bethesda (United States)
Published Article
Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Feb 12, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s11689-020-9309-6
Springer Nature


BackgroundPhelan-McDermid syndrome (PMS) is a genetic condition characterized by intellectual disability, speech and language deficits, hypotonia, autism spectrum disorder, and epilepsy. PMS is caused by 22q13.33 deletions or mutations affecting SHANK3, which codes for a critical scaffolding protein in excitatory synapses. SHANK3 variants are also known to be associated with an increased risk for regression, as well as for psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder and catatonia. This study aimed to further describe these phenomena in PMS and to explore any relationship between psychiatric illness and regression after early childhood.MethodsThirty-eight people with PMS were recruited to this study through the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome Foundation based on caregiver report of distinct development of psychiatric symptoms. Caregivers completed a clinician-administered semi-structured interview focused on eliciting psychiatric symptomatology. Data from the PMS International Registry were used to confirm genetic diagnoses of participants and to provide a larger sample for comparison.ResultsThe mean age of the 38 participants was 24.7 years (range = 13 to 50; SD = 10.06). Females (31 of 38 cases; 82%) and sequence variants (15 of 38 cases; 39%) were over-represented in this sample, compared to base rates in the PMS International Registry. Onset of psychiatric symptoms occurred at a mean age of 15.4 years (range = 7 to 32), with presentations marked by prominent disturbances of mood. Enduring substantial loss of functional skills after onset of psychiatric changes was seen in 25 cases (66%). Symptomst indicative of catatonia occurred in 20 cases (53%). Triggers included infections, changes in hormonal status, and stressful life events.ConclusionsThis study confirms that individuals with PMS are at risk of developing severe neuropsychiatric illness in adolescence or early adulthood, including bipolar disorder, catatonia, and lasting regression of skills. These findings should increase the awareness of these phenotypes and lead to earlier diagnosis and the implementation of appropriate interventions. Our findings also highlight the importance of genetic testing in the work-up of individuals with intellectual disability and acute psychiatric illness or regression. Future research is needed to clarify the prevalence and nature of psychiatric disorders and regression among larger unbiased samples of individuals with PMS.

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