Brain region-specific glutathione redox imbalance in autism

Neurochem Res. 2012 Aug;37(8):1681-9. doi: 10.1007/s11064-012-0775-4. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


Autism is a heterogeneous, behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder. Recently, we reported a brain region-specific increase in lipid peroxidation, and deficits in mitochondrial electron transport chain complexes in autism, suggesting the role of oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathophysiology of autism. However, the antioxidant status of the brain is not known in autism. Glutathione is a major endogenous antioxidant that plays a crucial role in protecting cells from exogenous and endogenous toxins, particularly in the central nervous system. The present study examines the concentrations of glutathione (GSH, reduced form; and GSSG, oxidized form) and the redox ratio of GSH to GSSG (marker of oxidative stress) in different regions of brains from autistic subjects and age-matched control subjects. In the cerebellum and temporal cortex from subjects with autism, GSH levels were significantly decreased by 34.2 and 44.6 %, with a concomitant increase in the levels of GSSG by 38.2 and 45.5 %, respectively, as compared to the control group. There was also a significant decrease in the levels of total GSH (tGSH) by 32.9 % in the cerebellum, and by 43.1 % in the temporal cortex of subjects with autism. In contrast, there was no significant change in GSH, GSSG and tGSH levels in the frontal, parietal and occipital cortices in autism versus control group. The redox ratio of GSH to GSSG was also significantly decreased by 52.8 % in the cerebellum and by 60.8 % in the temporal cortex of subjects with autism, suggesting glutathione redox imbalance in the brain of individuals with autism. These findings indicate that autism is associated with deficits in glutathione antioxidant defense in selective regions of the brain. We suggest that disturbances in brain glutathione homeostasis may contribute to oxidative stress, immune dysfunction and apoptosis, particularly in the cerebellum and temporal lobe, and may lead to neurodevelopmental abnormalities in autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Disulfide / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism*


  • Glutathione
  • Glutathione Disulfide