Background: Glutathione has a wide range of functions; it is an endogenous anti-oxidant and plays a key role in the maintenance of intracellular redox balance and detoxification of xenobiotics. Several studies have indicated that children with autism spectrum disorders may have altered glutathione metabolism which could play a key role in the condition.
Methods: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis was conducted of studies examining metabolites, interventions and/or genes of the glutathione metabolism pathways i.e. the γ-glutamyl cycle and trans-sulphuration pathway in autism spectrum disorders.
Results: Thirty nine studies were included in the review comprising an in vitro study, thirty two metabolite and/or co-factor studies, six intervention studies and six studies with genetic data as well as eight studies examining enzyme activity.
Conclusions: The review found evidence for the involvement of the γ-glutamyl cycle and trans-sulphuration pathway in autistic disorder is sufficiently consistent, particularly with respect to the glutathione redox ratio, to warrant further investigation to determine the significance in relation to clinical outcomes. Large, well designed intervention studies that link metabolites, cofactors and genes of the γ-glutamyl cycle and trans-sulphuration pathway with objective behavioural outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorders are required. Future risk factor analysis should include consideration of multiple nutritional status and metabolite biomarkers of pathways linked with the γ-glutamyl cycle and the interaction of genotype in relation to these factors.