Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by restricted, stereotyped behaviors and impairments in social communication. Although the underlying biological mechanisms of ASD remain poorly understood, recent preclinical research has implicated the endogenous cannabinoid (or endocannabinoid), anandamide, as a significant neuromodulator in rodent models of ASD. Despite this promising preclinical evidence, no clinical studies to date have tested whether endocannabinoids are dysregulated in individuals with ASD. Here, we addressed this critical gap in knowledge by optimizing liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry methodology to quantitatively analyze anandamide concentrations in banked blood samples collected from a cohort of children with and without ASD (N = 112).
Findings: Anandamide concentrations significantly differentiated ASD cases (N = 59) from controls (N = 53), such that children with lower anandamide concentrations were more likely to have ASD (p = 0.041). In keeping with this notion, anandamide concentrations were also significantly lower in ASD compared to control children (p = 0.034).
Conclusions: These findings are the first empirical human data to translate preclinical rodent findings to confirm a link between plasma anandamide concentrations in children with ASD. Although preliminary, these data suggest that impaired anandamide signaling may be involved in the pathophysiology of ASD.
Keywords: Anandamide; Autism spectrum disorder; Blood biomarker; Cannabinoid.