Serotonin’s Link to Autism

Autism’s roots are highly researched and tie-in closely to genetics and environmental factors. With years of autism research a network of revelations begins, such as the complex relationship between autism and depression. Serotonin, the chemical in our brains connected closely to depression is also tied directly to autism and its symptoms. In this post, we discuss the connection between serotonin and autism.

Serotonin’s Functions

Serotonin is involved in many of the body’s functions including one’s mood, sleeping patterns, appetite and socialization. Serotonin is released by our brain to other parts of the body such as the blood vessels and in the intestines to aid digestion. Serotonin levels and uptake in the brain is the primary factor for depression and its effects. 

Autism research uncovered a connection between serotonin and autism in the 60s when a study of 23 adults on the spectrum revealed 6 to have high levels of serotonin in their blood. Since then, further study has revealed that about one in four people on the spectrum have high blood serotonin.

Serotonin and Autism Research

Despite the high blood serotonin, studies also show low levels of serotonin in the brain of people on the spectrum. Serotonin in the blood does not pass into the brain, instead, the brain makes its own. The studies also reveal that those with low brain serotonin see some of their symptoms worsen such as:

As a result of these studies, antidepressants have been tested to attempt to treat those on the spectrum with low serotonin with mixed results. Some did see a decrease in repetitive behaviors and the symptoms above, but not at a statistically significant level for children with autism. This has prompted further study into medications that activate serotonin receptors as a method of treating children and adults on the spectrum.

With more study, hopefully more of serotonin’s connection to autism will be uncovered and in turn, more effective treatment and support will come to light. Until then, if you or your child experience the symptoms of depression and are interested in learning more about potential antidepressants, be sure to consult your doctor.

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