Importance of the field: Autism spectrum disorders, or pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), are neurodevelopmental disorders defined by qualitative impairment in social interaction, impaired communication and stereotyped patterns of behavior. The most common forms of PDD are autistic disorder (autism), Asperger's disorder and PDD not otherwise specified. Recent surveillance studies reveal an increase in the prevalence of autism and related PDDs. The use of pharmacologic agents in the treatment of these disorders can reduce the impact of interfering symptoms, providing relief for affected individuals and their families.
Areas covered in this review: This review examines results from neurobiologic research in an attempt to both elucidate the pathophysiology of autism and guide the development of pharmacologic agents for the treatment of associated symptoms. The safety and efficacy data of drugs currently in clinical use for the treatment of these symptoms, as well as pharmaceuticals currently under development, are discussed.
What the reader will gain: This comprehensive review will deepen the reader's current understanding of the research guiding the pharmacologic treatment of symptoms associated with autism and related PDDs. Areas of focus for future research are also discussed. The need for large-scale investigation of some commonly used pharmacologic agents, in addition to the development of drugs with improved efficacy and safety profiles, is made evident.
Take home message: Despite progress in the development of pharmacologic treatments for a number of interfering symptom domains associated with autism and other PDDs, a great deal of work remains.