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Autism Res. 2013 Feb;6(1):1-10. doi: 10.1002/aur.1260. Epub 2012 Nov 16.

Increased glutamate concentration in the auditory cortex of persons with autism and first-degree relatives: a (1)H-MRS study.

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Department of Radiology, University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


Increased glutamate levels have been reported in the hippocampal and frontal regions of persons with autism using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS). Although autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are highly heritable, MRS studies have not included relatives of persons with ASD. We therefore conducted a study to determine if glutamate levels are elevated in people with autism and parents of children with autism. Single-voxel, point-resolved spectroscopy data were acquired at 3T for left and right hemisphere auditory cortical voxels in 13 adults with autism, 15 parents of children with autism, and 15 adult control subjects. The primary measure was glutamate + glutamine (Glx). Additional measures included n-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), choline (Cho), myoinositol (mI), and creatine (Cr). The autism group had significantly higher Glx, NAA, and Cr concentrations than the control subjects. Parents did not differ from control subjects on any measures. No significant differences in Cho or mI levels were seen among groups. No reliable correlations between autism symptom measures, and MRS variables were seen after Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. The elevation in Glx in autism is consistent with prior MRS data in the hippocampus and frontal lobe and may suggest increased cortical excitability. Increased NAA and Cr may indicate brain metabolism disturbances in autism. In the current study, we found no reliable evidence of a familial effect for any spectroscopy measure. This may indicate that these metabolites have no heritable component in autism, the presence of a compensatory factor in parents, or sample-specific limitations such as the participation of singleton families.

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