Melatonin in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: How Does the Evidence Fit Together?

J Nat Sci. 2015;1(7):e125.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are prevalent neurodevelopmental conditions, affecting 1 in 68 children in the United States alone. Sleep disturbance, particularly insomnia, is very common in children diagnosed with ASD, with evidence supporting overlapping neurobiological and genetic underpinnings. One of the most well studied mechanisms related to ASD and insomnia is dysregulation of the melatonin pathway, which has been observed in many individuals with ASD compared to typically developing controls. Furthermore, variation in genes whose products regulate endogenous melatonin modify sleep patterns in humans and have also been implicated in some cases of ASD. However, the relationship between comorbid insomnia, melatonin processing, and genes that regulate endogenous melatonin levels in ASD is complex and requires further study to fully elucidate. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the current findings related to the effects of genetic variation in the melatonergic pathway on risk for expression of sleep disorders in children with ASD. In addition, functional findings related to endogenous levels of melatonin and pharmacokinetic profiles in this patient population are evaluated.

Keywords: Autism; genetics; insomnia; pharmacokinetics.