The contribution of [1H] magnetic resonance spectroscopy to the study of excitation-inhibition in autism

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Mar 8:89:236-244. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.09.010. Epub 2018 Sep 21.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects over 1:100 of the population and costs the UK more than £32bn and the USA more than $175bn (£104bn) annually. Its core symptoms are social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours and sensory hyper- or hypo-sensitivities. A highly diverse phenotypic presentation likely reflects its etiological heterogeneity and makes finding treatment targets for ASD challenging. In addition, there are no means to identify biologically responsive individuals who may benefit from specific interventions. There is hope however, and in this review we consolidate how findings from magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) add to the evidence that differences in the brain's excitatory glutamate and inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) balance may be both a key biomarker and a tractable treatment target in ASD.

Keywords: Autism; Excitation-inhibition; GABA; Glutamate; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / metabolism*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*