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Fronto-Striatal Glutamate in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Jilly Naaijen, Marcel P Zwiers, Houshang Amiri, Steven C. R. Williams, Sarah Durston, Bob Oranje, Daniel Brandeis, Regina Boecker-Schlier, Matthias Ruf, Isabella Wolf, Tobias Banaschewski, Jeffrey C Glennon, Barbara Franke, Jan K Buitelaar, David J Lythgoe

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Early online date21 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2016

King's Authors


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are often comorbid with the overlap based on compulsive behaviors. Although previous studies suggest glutamatergic deficits in fronto-striatal brain areas in both disorders, this is the first study to directly compare the glutamate concentrations across the two disorders with those in healthy control participants using both categorical and dimensional approaches. In the current multi-center study (four centers), we used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) in 51 children with ASD, 29 with OCD, and 53 healthy controls (aged 8 to 13 years) to investigate glutamate (Glu) concentrations in two regions of the fronto-striatal circuit: midline anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and left dorsal striatum. Spectra were processed with Linear Combination Model (LCModel). Group comparisons were performed with one-way analyses of variance including sex, medication use, and scanner site as covariates. Additionally, a dimensional analysis was performed, linking glutamate with a continuous measure of compulsivity across disorders. There was a main group effect for ACC glutamate (p=0.019). Contrast analyses showed increased glutamate both in children with ASD and OCD compared to controls (p=0.007), but no differences between the two disorders (p=0.770). Dimensional analyses revealed a positive correlation between compulsive behavior (measured with the Repetitive Behavior Scale) and ACC glutamate (rho=0.24, p=0.03). These findings were robust across sites. No differences were found in the striatum. The current findings confirm overlap between ASD and OCD in terms of glutamate involvement. Glutamate concentration in ACC seems to be associated with the severity of compulsive behavior.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 21 November 2016. doi:10.1038/npp.2016.260.

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