Serotonin: A Means To Treating Autism

Mood influences social behaviour! Psychosocial factors support relatively both health, and the drawbacks of numerous disorders. Low social interaction can be related to high-stress levels, dysthymia, depression and post-traumatic stress, which promote a host of genetic disorders and medical illnesses. In Autism, the child faces issues of poor eye contact, undeveloped speech, poor communication skills, lack of social interaction, etc.


Serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the body, is known to be strongly responsible for the feeling of contentment, well-being and happiness. Studies have confirmed that happiness and positive emotions are associated with numerous successful outcomes, and considered as a predictor of good health, social interaction and longevity. Whereas negative moods are linked to negative outcomes, mood hostility, this may lead to social isolation or decreased social support.


So, is there a link between serotonin and Autism? Research has proven that serotonin helps in regulating the body temperature; laborious breathing and providing proper sleep. Hence, it is an important neurotransmitter that helps in regulating the mood and social behaviour along with good appetite, digestion, sleep, etc. This implies that serotonin deficiency may play an important role in lack of peer-to-peer interaction, aloofness, etc. in patients of Autism.


Robert Malenka, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University in California, has contributed immensely towards the study of mechanisms by which neurons are able to communicate, adapt and create normal and pathological behaviour in patients by increased levels of serotonin.


The brain is the most vital therapeutic target for improving neurotransmitter function and balance in patients with Neurological disorders like Autism. Serotonin produced in the brain triggers a host of symptoms that disrupt the mental, emotional, behavioural and physical imbalance, in a child with Autism, which ultimately affects the quality of life of the patient, positively.


According to Robert Malenka, “Somehow, the release of serotonin in the nucleus accumbens really plays an important role in enhancing sociability. The simple hypothesis is it makes the social interaction more reinforcing.” This implies that a balanced level of serotonin, in children with Autism, is essentially pivotal in improving their interaction and behaviour.


In a new study, Robert and his team treated serotonin-producing neurons with proteins that were highly sensitive to light. The light activates the neurons, causing the release of serotonin in the nucleus accumbens. “The most exciting finding from the study is that the authors pinpointed the specific brain region and the specific cell types that have a causal relationship to animal social behaviours relevant to autism,” said Robert.


What they noticed was that Antidepressants do not ease autism traits even though they may escalate the serotonin levels; however, the release is too slow to be effective.


Recent studies are focused on confirming whether drugs that activate serotonin molecules can enhance sociability. This has brought them to explore the possibility of using MDMA (a drug called ecstasy), to promote serotonin release from neurons.

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