Cognition and the sex chromosomes: Studies in Turner syndrome

Judith Ross, David Roeltgen, Andrew Zinn

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Turner syndrome (TS) is a human genetic disorder involving females who lack all or part of one X chromosome. The complex phenotype includes ovarian failure, a characteristic neurocognitive profile and typical physical features. TS features are associated not only with complete monosomy X but also with partial deletions of either the short (Xp) or long (Xq) arm (partial monosomy X). Impaired visual-spatial/perceptual abilities are characteristic of TS children and adults of varying races and socioeconomic status, but global developmental delay is uncommon. The cognitive phenotype generally includes normal verbal function with relatively impaired visual-spatial ability, attention, working memory, and spatially dependent executive function. The constellation of neurocognitive deficits observed in TS is most likely multifactorial and related to a complex interaction between genetic abnormalities and hormonal deficiencies. Furthermore, other determinants, including an additional genetic mechanism, imprinting, may also contribute to cognitive deficits associated with monosomy X. As a relatively common genetic disorder with well-defined manifestations, TS presents an opportunity to investigate genetic and hormonal factors that influence female cognitive development. TS is an excellent model for such studies because of its prevalence, the well-characterized phenotype, and the wealth of molecular resources available for the X chromosome. In the current review, we summarize the hormonal and genetic factors that may contribute to the TS neurocognitive phenotype. The hormonal determinants of cognition in TS are related to estrogen and androgen deficiency. Our genetic hypothesis is that haploinsufficiency for gene/genes on the short arm of the X chromosome (Xp) is responsible for the hallmark features of the TS cognitive phenotype. Careful clinical and molecular characterization of adult subjects missing part of Xp links the TS phenotype of impaired visual spatial/perceptual ability to specific distal Xp chromosome regions. We demonstrate that small, nonmosaic deletion of the distal short arm of the X chromosome in adult women is associated with the same hallmark cognitive profile seen in adult women with TS. Future studies will elucidate the cognitive deficits and the underlying etiology. These results should allow us to begin to design cognitive interventions that might lessen those deficits in the TS population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalHormone Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006


  • Cognition
  • Genotype:phenotype relationship
  • Turner syndrome
  • X chromosome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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