Link found between neurotransmitter imbalance, brain connectivity in those with autism

June 6, 2018, University of Missouri-Columbia
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

One in 59 children in the United States lives with a form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The signs of autism begin in early childhood and can affect individuals differently. However, many with autism share similar symptoms, including difficulties with social communication. Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine and MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders identified a link between a neurotransmitter imbalance and brain connectivity between regions of the brain that play a role in social communication and language. The study found two tests that could lead to more precise medical treatments.

"One of the issues with approaching treatment of is there are many subtypes and many different genes and potentially other factors that contribute to the disorder," said David Beversdorf, MD, professor of radiology, neurology and psychology at the MU School of Medicine and the Thompson Center. "If you have a treatment that works in one sub-population, it might not work in another. However, if we can determine why that is, we can pursue individualized approaches and make a lot more progress in developing new treatments."

Using both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (H-MRS), John Hegarty, Ph.D., while a graduate student in the interdisciplinary neuroscience program at MU and now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, led Beversdorf's team. They investigated the relationship between neurotransmitter levels and connectivity of areas of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterolateral cerebellar hemisphere.

Fourteen adolescents and adults with and 12 control participants underwent brain scans. The scans revealed a potential link between functional connectivity, neurotransmitter imbalance, and listening comprehension in individuals with autism. Those with low functional connectivity tended to have a reduced balance of excitatory to inhibitory neurotransmitter levels in the cerebellum and showed impaired listening comprehension, the ability to infer meaning from verbal information. Study participants were administered two questionnaires to determine their autism spectrum disorder-related symptom severity. They also completed two assessments designed to rate different aspects of language and social competence.

"This finding begins to suggest how biomarkers relate with each other in autism," Beversdorf said. "There may be whole other sets of biomarkers that may be inter-related and may be telling us something. It may serve as a biomarker to predict who will respond to what drug."

The study, "Cerebro-Cerebellar Functional Connectivity is Associated with Cerebellar Excitation-Inhibition Balance in Autism Spectrum Disorder," was recently published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Explore further: Researchers report altered brain functional connectivity in autism spectrum disorder

Related Stories

Researchers report altered brain functional connectivity in autism spectrum disorder

November 30, 2017
A new study in adolescent and young adult males with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) showed significant differences in the functional architecture and interactivity of the default mode network (DMN)—brain regions linked ...

Autism severity detected with brain activity test

July 25, 2017
UCLA researchers have discovered that children with autism have a tell-tale difference on brain tests compared with other children. Specifically, the researchers found that the lower a child's peak alpha frequency—a number ...

Increased reaction to stress linked to gastrointestinal issues in children with autism

January 4, 2017
One in 45 American children lives with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these children also have significant gastrointestinal issues, but the cause of these symptoms ...

Discovering age-specific brain changes in autism

March 26, 2015
The field of autism research has tried to find a central theory underlying brain changes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now, a new study shows that individuals with the disorder exhibit different patterns ...

Autism biomarker seen as boon for new treatments

January 11, 2017
Researchers at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment have identified a signature brain-wave pattern for children with autism spectrum disorder related to a genetic condition known as Dup15q syndrome. The research ...

Time between pregnancies may affect autism risk

November 22, 2017
Investigators have found a link between the amount of time between pregnancies and Autism Spectrum Disorder in children. The findings are published in Autism Research.

Recommended for you

Autism linked to egg cells' difficulty creating large proteins

August 16, 2018
New work from Carnegie's Ethan Greenblatt and Allan Spradling reveals that the genetic factors underlying fragile X syndrome, and potentially other autism-related disorders, stem from defects in the cell's ability to create ...

First biomarker evidence of DDT-autism link

August 16, 2018
A study of more than 1 million pregnancies in Finland reports that elevated levels of a metabolite of the banned insecticide DDT in the blood of pregnant women are linked to increased risk for autism in the offspring. An ...

Discovery of a key protein involved in the development of autism

August 16, 2018
Most individuals with autism spectrum disorder cannot be distinguished by physical traits or by severe neurological symptoms. In fact, these cases can be identified only on the basis of certain behaviours, namely their obsessive ...

People with autism may not have trouble focusing on people in photos

August 16, 2018
While people with autism may avoid eye contact in one-on-one conversations, they may not avoid looking at people in photos, according to Penn State researchers.

Mizzou program significantly reduces delay in autism diagnosis

August 15, 2018
When Katie New first suspected her son had autism, she had to wait 18 months for a diagnosis. She also had to travel nearly 100 miles from her hometown of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, to see an autism specialist in Cape Girardeau. ...

Ouija board study highlights ineffective treatment for autism

August 7, 2018
A new study into Ouija board practices revealed how the planchette (or a glass, as is often used) seemingly moves without any of the individual players being aware that they are doing it.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.