The relationship between autism spectrum disorders and mitochondrial dysfunction, including mitochondrial myopathies and other mitochondrial diseases, is an area of ongoing research. All autism spectrum disorders are known to be heritable, via genetic and/or epigenetic mechanisms, but specific modes of inheritance are not well characterized. Nevertheless, autism spectrum disorders have been linked to many specific genes associated with mitochondrial function, especially to genes involved in mitochondrial tRNA and the electron transport chain, both particularly vulnerable to point mutations, and clinical research also supports a relationship between the two pathologies. Although only a small minority of patients with autism have a mitochondrial disease, many patients with mitochondrial myopathies have autism spectrum disorder symptoms, and these symptoms may be the presenting symptoms, which presents a diagnostic challenge for clinicians. The authors report the case of a 15-year-old boy with a history of autism spectrum disorder and neurocardiogenic syncope, admitted to the inpatient unit for self-injury, whose young mother, age 35, was discovered to suffer from mitochondrial myopathy, dysautonomia, neurocardiogenic syncope, Ehler-Danlos syndrome, and other uncommon multisystem pathologies likely related to mitochondrial dysfunction. This case illustrates the need for a high index of suspicion for mitochondrial disease in patients with autism, as they have two orders of magnitude greater risk for such diseases than the general population. The literature shows that mitochondrial disease is underdiagnosed in autism spectrum disorder patients and should not be viewed as a "zebra" (i.e., an obscure diagnosis that is made when a more common explanation is more likely).
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