Retinal GABAergic Alterations in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Qiyun Huang, Claire L. Ellis, Shaun M. Leo, Hester Velthuis, Andreia C. Pereira, Mihail Dimitrov, Francesca M. Ponteduro, Nichol M.L. Wong, Eileen Daly, Declan G.M. Murphy, Omar A. Mahroo, Gráinne M. McAlonan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alterations in γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) have been implicated in sensory differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Visual signals are initially processed in the retina, and in this study, we explored the hypotheses that the GABA-dependent retinal response to light is altered in individuals with ASD. Light-adapted electroretinograms were recorded from 61 adults (38 males and 23 females; n = 22 ASD) in response to three stimulus protocols: (1) the standard white flash, (2) the standard 30 Hz flickering protocol, and (3) the photopic negative response protocol. Participants were administered an oral dose of placebo, 15 or 30 mg of arbaclofen (STX209, GABAB agonist) in a randomized, double-blind, crossover order before the test. At baseline (placebo), the a-wave amplitudes in response to single white flashes were more prominent in ASD, relative to typically developed (TD) participants. Arbaclofen was associated with a decrease in the a-wave amplitude in ASD, but an increase in TD, eliminating the group difference observed at baseline. The extent of this arbaclofen-elicited shift significantly correlated with the arbaclofen-elicited shift in cortical responses to auditory stimuli as measured by using an electroencephalogram in our prior study and with broader autistic traits measured with the autism quotient across the whole cohort. Hence, GABA-dependent differences in retinal light processing in ASD appear to be an accessible component of a wider autistic difference in the central processing of sensory information, which may be upstream of more complex autistic phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1218232024
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2024


  • autism
  • GABA
  • retina
  • sensory processing


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