Serotonin and autism

Health Watch

One in 59 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The cost of care is expected to exceed $400 billion by 2025.

Now, groundbreaking research involving a brain chemical is showing great promise in the lab.

Pam Minelli’s son, Andrew, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. She says, “He’s non-verbal, but he’s a lover boy.”

Like most parents of autistic children, the hope is for treatment that can help bring them out of their shell.

Randy Blakely is a professor and he says, “The work that we do on the brain focuses on certain brain chemicals.”

Blakely and his team study how certain brain chemicals may play a role in behavior. He adds, “There’s a significant fraction of individuals with autism, about 25%, that show elevated serotonin in the blood.”

That made them wonder how this mood-regulating hormone may affect early brain development. Scientists found faster elimination of serotonin in mice caused repetitive traits and other behavioral symptoms of ASD.

This can affect how circuits wire up in the brain.

They used an experimental drug that reduces inflammation. Blakely says, “We now gave the drug to our mice and their behavior normalized. I think we found a very important pathway in the brain.”

The hope is this will lead to a drug that will manage the symptoms of ASD.

The experimental drug is in phase one trials. Researchers say the next step could be clinical trials with adults on the spectrum.

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