Neurotransmitter May Be Linked to Autistic Behavior A breakdown in the signaling pathway used by a specific neurotransmitter in the brain could be associated with autistic behavior, scientists have found. GABA, one of the brain’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitters, has been studied extensively using animal models in connection to behaviors typically seen in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   June 01, 2016
Neurotransmitter May Be Linked to Autistic Behavior
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   June 01, 2016
Neurotransmitter May Be Linked to Autistic Behavior
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.21062016.14
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.21062016.14
A breakdown in the signaling pathway used by a specific neurotransmitter in the brain could be associated with autistic behavior, scientists have found.
GABA, one of the brain’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitters, has been studied extensively using animal models in connection to behaviors typically seen in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But Caroline Robertson, a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, says her team’s new study may show how reduced GABA action is associated with ASD in humans. The research appears in the journal Current Biology.
The researchers observed GABA function in the brains of 20 neurotypical control participants and 21 participants who have ASD using a test built on a phenomenon known as “binocular rivalry.”
Binocular rivalry refers to the brain’s ability to focus on one image when shown two images simultaneously, one in each eye. To focus on just one image, the brain must neurally block out the other, suppressing awareness. Robertson and her team found that although people with ASD are able to perform this task, their brains took longer to oscillate, and brain imaging through magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed that GABA levels were much lower in people with autism during the test.
“Where the average person might rock back and forth between the two images every three seconds, [a person with ASD] might take twice as long,” Robertson says. “They spend the same amount of time in the steady state—where they see only one image—as the average person, [but] it just takes them longer to switch between them, and the second image is not as deeply suppressed.”
The authors note that their findings are just one part of the autism puzzle, and that GABA levels can vary greatly among people with ASD.
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June 2016
Volume 21, Issue 6