Heritability of the melatonin synthesis variability in autism spectrum disorders

Sci Rep. 2017 Dec 18;7(1):17746. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-18016-3.


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders with a complex genetic architecture. They are characterized by impaired social communication, stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests and are frequently associated with comorbidities such as intellectual disability, epilepsy and severe sleep disorders. Hyperserotonemia and low melatonin levels are among the most replicated endophenotypes reported in ASD, but their genetic causes remain largely unknown. Based on the biochemical profile of 717 individuals including 213 children with ASD, 128 unaffected siblings and 376 parents and other relatives, we estimated the heritability of whole-blood serotonin, platelet N-acetylserotonin (NAS) and plasma melatonin levels, as well as the two enzymes arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) and acetylserotonin O-methyltransferase (ASMT) activities measured in platelets. Overall, heritability was higher for NAS (0.72 ± 0.091) and ASMT (0.59 ± 0.097) compared with serotonin (0.31 ± 0.078), AANAT (0.34 ± 0.077) and melatonin (0.22 ± 0.071). Bivariate analyses showed high phenotypic and genetic correlations between traits of the second step of the metabolic pathway (NAS, ASMT and melatonin) indicating the contribution of shared genetic factors. A better knowledge of the heritability of the melatonin synthesis variability constitutes an important step to identify the factors that perturb this pathway in individuals with ASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arylalkylamine N-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Endophenotypes
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Male
  • Melatonin / analysis
  • Melatonin / biosynthesis
  • Melatonin / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Serotonin / analogs & derivatives
  • Serotonin / analysis
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Siblings
  • Sleep Wake Disorders


  • Serotonin
  • Arylalkylamine N-Acetyltransferase
  • Melatonin
  • N-acetylserotonin