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Shifting brain inhibitory balance and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex of adults with autism spectrum disorder

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L A Ajram, J Horder, M A Mendez, A Galanopoulos, L P Brennan, R H Wichers, D M Robertson, C M Murphy, J Zinkstok, G Ivin, M Heasman, D Meek, M D Tricklebank, G J Barker, D J Lythgoe, R A E Edden, S C Williams, D G M Murphy, G M McAlonan

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1137
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date23 May 2017
Accepted/In press10 Apr 2017
E-pub ahead of print23 May 2017


King's Authors


Currently, there are no effective pharmacologic treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is, nevertheless, potential for progress. For example, recent evidence suggests that the excitatory (E) glutamate and inhibitory (I) GABA systems may be altered in ASD. However, no prior studies of ASD have examined the 'responsivity' of the E-I system to pharmacologic challenge; or whether E-I modulation alters abnormalities in functional connectivity of brain regions implicated in the disorder. Therefore, we used magnetic resonance spectroscopy ([1H]MRS) to measure prefrontal E-I flux in response to the glutamate and GABA acting drug riluzole in adult men with and without ASD. We compared the change in prefrontal 'Inhibitory Index'-the GABA fraction within the pool of glutamate plus GABA metabolites-post riluzole challenge; and the impact of riluzole on differences in resting-state functional connectivity. Despite no baseline differences in E-I balance, there was a significant group difference in response to pharmacologic challenge. Riluzole increased the prefrontal cortex inhibitory index in ASD but decreased it in controls. There was also a significant group difference in prefrontal functional connectivity at baseline, which was abolished by riluzole within the ASD group. Our results also show, for we believe the first time in ASD, that E-I flux can be 'shifted' with a pharmacologic challenge, but that responsivity is significantly different from controls. Further, our initial evidence suggests that abnormalities in functional connectivity can be 'normalised' by targeting E-I, even in adults.

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