Altered neurotransmitter metabolism in adolescents with high-functioning autism


Previous studies have suggested that alterations in excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmitters might play a crucial role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) can provide valuable information about abnormal brain metabolism and neurotransmitter concentrations. However, few 1H-MRS studies have been published on the imbalance of the two most abundant neurotransmitters in ASD: glutamate (Glu) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Moreover, to our knowledge none of these published studies is performed with a study population consisting purely of high-functioning autism (HFA) adolescents. Selecting only individuals with HFA eliminates factors possibly related to intellectual impairment instead of ASD. This study aims to assess Glu and GABA neurotransmitter concentrations in HFA. Occipital concentrations of Glu and GABA plus macromolecules (GABA+) were obtained using 1H-MRS relative to creatine (Cr) in adolescents with HFA (n=15 and n=13 respectively) and a healthy control group (n=17). Multiple linear regression revealed significantly higher Glu/Cr and lower GABA+/Glu concentrations in the HFA group compared to the controls. These results imply that imbalanced neurotransmitter levels of excitation and inhibition are associated with HFA in adolescents.