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OBM Neurobiol. 2017;1(2). pii: 005. doi: 10.21926/obm.neurobiol.1702005. Epub 2017 Apr 27.

Perspectives on the Role of Endocannabinoids in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Author information

1
Department of Neuroscience, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06032, USA.
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Contributed equally

Abstract

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are diagnosed on the basis of three behavioral features, namely, (1) deficits in social communication, (2) absence or delay in language and (3) stereotypy. The consensus regarding the neurological pathogenesis of ASDs is aberrant synaptogenesis and synapse function. Further, it is now widely accepted that ASD is neurodevelopmental in nature, placing emphasis on derangements occurring at the level of intra- and intercellular signaling during corticogenesis. At present, there is an ever-growing list of mutations in putative susceptibility genes in affected individuals, preventing effective transformation of knowledge gathered from basic science research to the clinic. In response, the focus of ASD biology has shifted toward the identification of cellular signaling pathways that are common to various ASD-related mutations in hopes that these shared pathways may serve as more promising treatment targets than targeting individual genes or proteins. To this end, the endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid, eCB) system has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic target in the field of ASD research. The eCB system is altered in several neurological disorders, but the role of these bioactive lipids in ASD etiology remains poorly understood. In this perspective, we review current evidence linking eCB signaling to ASDs and put forth the notion that continued focus on eCBs in autism research may provide valuable insight into pathophysiology and treatment strategies. In addition to its role in modulating transmitter release at mature synapses, the eCB signaling system plays important roles in many aspects of cortical development, and disruption of these effects of eCBs may also be related to ASD pathophysiology.

KEYWORDS:

Autism; Cortex; Development; Endocannabinoids

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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