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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2000 Mar;22(3):275-83.

Peripheral markers of serotonergic and noradrenergic function in post-pubertal, caucasian males with autistic disorder.

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  • 1University Center of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, A.Z.M., Antwerp, Belgium.


Some studies have suggested that disorders in the peripheral and central metabolism of serotonin (5-HT) and noradrenaline may play a role in the pathophysiology of autistic disorder. This study examines serotonergic and noradrenergic markers in a study group of 13 male, post-pubertal, caucasian autistic patients (age 12-18 y; I.Q. > 55) and 13 matched volunteers. [3H]-paroxetine binding Kd values were significantly higher in patients with autism than in healthy volunteers. Plasma concentrations of tryptophan, the precursor of 5-HT, were significantly lower in autistic patients than in healthy volunteers. There were no significant differences between autistic and normal children in the serum concentrations of 5-HT, or the 24-hr urinary excretion of 5-hydroxy-indoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. There were no significant differences in [3H]-rauwolscine binding Bmax or Kd values, or in the serum concentrations of tyrosine, the precursor of noradrenaline, between both study groups. There were highly significant positive correlations between age and 24-hr urinary excretion of 5-HIAA and serum tryptophan. The results suggest that: 1) serotonergic disturbances, such as defects in the 5-HT transporter system and lowered plasma tryptophan, may play a role in the pathophysiology of autism; 2) autism is not associated with alterations in the noradrenergic system; and 3) the metabolism of serotonin in humans undergoes significant changes between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

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