Serotonin and dopamine transporter binding in children with autism determined by SPECT

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2008 Aug;50(8):593-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03027.x.


Disturbances in the serotonergic system have been recognized in autism. To investigate the association between serotonin and dopamine transporters and autism, we studied 15 children (14 males, one female; mean age 8 y 8 mo [SD 3 y 10 mo]) with autism and 10 non-autistic comparison children (five males, five females; mean age 9 y 10 mo [SD 2 y 8 mo]) using single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) with [123 I] nor-beta-CIT. The children, with autism were studied during light sedation. They showed reduced serotonin transporter (SERT) binding capacity in the medial frontal cortex, midbrain, and temporal lobe areas. However, after correction due to the estimated effect of sedation, the difference remained significant only in the medial frontal cortex area (p=0.002). In the individuals with autism dopamine transporter (DAT) binding did not differ from that of the comparison group. The results indicate that SERT binding capacity is disturbed in autism. The reduction is more evident in adolescence than in earlier childhood. The low SERT binding reported here and the low serotonin synthesis capacity shown elsewhere may indicate maturation of a lesser number of serotonergic nerve terminals in individuals with autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Child
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / diagnostic imaging
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon*


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins