The role of trace elements, thiamin (e) and transketolase in autism and autistic spectrum disorder

Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2015 Jan 1;7:229-41. doi: 10.2741/730.


Although there has been much research into autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), there is room for considerable conjecture regarding the etiology of these developmental brain disorders. ASD is marked by a complex interaction between environmental factors and genetic predisposition, including epistasis. This manuscript argues that changes in oxidative metabolism, thiamine homeostasis, heavy metal deposition and cellular immunity have a role in the etiopathogenesis of autism and ASD. Recent findings from our group and others provide evidence for abnormal thiol metabolism, marked by significant alteration in the deposition of several trace heavy metal species. Together with these, we find differences in thiamine homeostasis in ASD patients, which can be corrected by supplementation. We hypothesize that altered thiol metabolism from heavy metal toxicity, one of the key mechanisms for oxidative stress production, may be responsible for the biochemical alterations in transketolase, dysautonomia and abnormal thiamine homeostasis. Although it is unknown why these particular metals accumulate, we suspect that children with ASD and forms of autism may have particular trouble excreting thiol-toxic heavy metal species, many of which exist as divalent cations. We maintain mercury accumulation is evidence of altered clearance. Together with concomitant oxidative stress, these findings may offer an intriguing component or possible mechanism for oxidative stress-mediated neurodegeneration in ASD patients. Regardless of the exact cause, these factors may be more important to the etiology of this symptomatically diverse disease spectrum. Here, we offer insight into new avenues of exploration as well as the development of novel treatment approaches for these growing and devastating diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / drug therapy
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / etiology*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Thiamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Thiamine / metabolism*
  • Thiamine / therapeutic use
  • Transketolase / metabolism*


  • Transketolase
  • Thiamine