The serotonin transporter promoter length polymorphism (5-hydroxytryptamine transporter length polymorphism; 5-HTTLPR) has long been implicated in autism and other psychiatric disorders. The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) has a positive effect on treating some symptoms of autism. The effects of these drugs vary in individuals because of the presence of the S or L allele of 5-HTTLPR. Studies performed on various autistic populations have found different allele frequencies for the L and S alleles. Allele frequencies and genotypes of the South African autistic populations (African, mixed, and Caucasian) were compared with matching South African ethnic control populations. The *S/*S genotype was found to be highly significantly associated with all the South African autistic ethnic populations. In the South African African population the *S/*S genotype was present in 7 (33%) of the autistic individuals but in none of the control subjects, yielding infinitely large odds of developing autism. The odds of developing autism with the *S/*S genotype compared to the *L/*L genotype increased 10.15-fold in the South African mixed group and 2.74-fold in the South African Caucasian population. The allele frequency of the South African autistic population was also compared with studies of other autistic populations around the world, and highly significant differences were found with the Japanese, Korean, and Indian population groups. The difference was not significant for the French, German, Israeli, Portuguese, and American groups. This is the first South African study of autistic individuals of different ethnic backgrounds that shows significant differences in allele and genotype frequencies of 5-HTTLPR. The results of this study open new avenues for investigating the role of transmission of the L and S alleles in families with autism in South Africa.
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Vol. 82 • No. 3