In-depth analysis of spatial cognition in Williams syndrome: A critical assessment of the role of the LIMK1 gene

Victoria Gray, Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Elaine Funnell, May Tassabehji

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    The LIM kinase1 protein (LIMK1) is thought to be involved in neuronal development and brain function. However, its role in spatial cognition in individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) is currently ambiguous, with conflicting reports on the cognitive phenotypes of individuals who do not have classic WS but harbour partial deletions including LIMK1. Two families with partial WS deletions have been described with deficits in visuospatial cognition (Frangiskakis, J. M., Ewart, A. K., Morris, C. A., Mervis, C. B., Bertrand, & J., Robinson, et al. (1996). LIM-kinase 1 hemizygosity implicated in impaired visuospatial constructive cognition. Cell, 86, 59-69), in contrast to others with similar partial deletions who did not display spatial impairments (Tassabehji, M., Metcalfe, K., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Carette, M. J., Grant, J., & Dennis, N., et al. (1999). Williams syndrome: Use of chromosomal microdeletions as a tool to dissect cognitive and physical phenotypes. American Journal of Human Genetics, 64, 118-125). To determine the role of LIMK1 in the highly penetrant visuospatial deficits associated with classic WS, it is essential to investigate the discrepancies between the two studies. Previous research used a standardised task to measure spatial cognition, which may not pick up subtle impairments. We therefore undertook more extensive testing of the spatial cognition of two adults with partial genetic deletions in the WS critical region (LIMK1 and ELN only), who had not displayed spatial impairments in the previous study, and compared them to two high-functioning adults with WS matched on verbal ability. All participants completed a broad battery of 16 perceptual and constructive spatial tests, and the clear-cut spatial difficulties observed in the WS group were not found in the partial deletion group. These findings rule out the claim that the deletion of one copy of LIMK1 is alone sufficient to result in spatial impairment, but leave open the possibility that LIMK1 contributes to the WS cognitive deficits if deleted in combination with other genes within the WS deletion. We conclude that a deeper assessment of WS at the genetic level is required before the contribution of specific genes to phenotypic outcomes can be fully understood. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)679-685
    Number of pages6
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    • LIM kinase1 (LIMK1)
    • Patial deletion patients (PD)
    • Spatial cognition
    • Williams syndrome (WS)


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