Brain imaging of patients with autism shows substantial differences in the brain’s serotonin system

Researchers at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet initiated brain imaging tests in patients with autism spectrum disorder and uncovered distinct brain differences in the brain’s serotonin system. Their findings appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Psychiatry.

According to researchers, people with autism tend to have lower levels of a protein responsible for the regulation of serotonin in the brain. As part of their new study, positron emission tomography tests were conducted to spot differences between 5-HTT levels among 15 participants with autism and 15 without any neurodevelopmental condition.

Autism, by definition, can be characterized as a neurodevelopmental condition causing impairment in verbal and nonverbal communications, social deficits, and repetitive behavior.

In the findings, the research group at Karolinska Institutet found that patients with autism tend to have lower concentrations of the serotonin transporter 5-HTT in the cerebral cortex and the brain stem.

The results demonstrate that substantial brain differences were uncovered implicating the brain’s serotonin system, indicating its potential role in the onset of autism symptoms.

“Our results show that there are significant differences and confirm that the brain’s serotonin system plays an important part in ASD,” the study’s first author stated in a news release.

“With a better understanding of the physiology of ASD, we will hopefully one day be able to alleviate the symptoms that cause suffering or functional impairment.”

The study was supported by EU-AIMS, the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking, the Swedish Research Council, the Thuring Foundation, and others.

Image courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto
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