Molecular imaging of autism spectrum disorder

Brian Jaeho Hwang, Mona Adel Mohamed, James Robert Brašić

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition with onset in early childhood characterized by marked deficits in interpersonal interactions and communication and by a restricted and repetitive range of interests and activities. This review points out key recent findings utilizing molecular imaging including magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and nuclear neuroimaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). MRS indicates an excitatory/inhibitory imbalance in high-functioning autism. Dysfunction of neurotransmitter and glucose metabolism has been demonstrated by PET and SPECT. Levels of serotonin synthesis in typically developing children are approximately twice those of adults; after the age of 5 years, levels decrease to those of adults. In contrast, levels of serotonin synthesis of children with ASD increase between ages 2 and 15 to 1.5-times adult values. The dopamine transporter is increased in the orbitofrontal cortex of men with ASD. The serotonin transporter is reduced in the brains of children, adolescents, and adults with ASD. Reduced serotonin receptors in the thalamus of adults with ASD are associated with communication difficulties. Glucose metabolism is reduced in the brains of people with ASD. Molecular imaging will provide the preliminary data for promising therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-554
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Review of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2017


  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • developmental disabilities
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • neurotransmitter
  • nuclear neuroimaging
  • positron emission tomography
  • receptor
  • serotonin
  • single-photon emission computed tomography
  • transporter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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