Extreme enhancement or depletion of serotonin transporter function and serotonin availability in autism spectrum disorder

Valentina R. Garbarino, T. Lee Gilman, Lynette C. Daws, Georgianna G. Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


A variety of human and animal studies support the hypothesis that serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) system dysfunction is a contributing factor to the development of autism in some patients. However, many questions remain about how developmental manipulation of various components that influence 5-HT signaling (5-HT synthesis, transport, metabolism) persistently impair social behaviors. This review will summarize key aspects of central 5-HT function important for normal brain development, and review evidence implicating perinatal disruptions in 5-HT signaling in the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorder. We discuss the importance, and relative dearth, of studies that explore the possible correlation to autism in the interactions between important intrinsic and extrinsic factors that may disrupt 5-HT homeostasis during development. In particular, we focus on exposure to 5-HT transport altering mechanisms such as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or genetic polymorphisms in primary or auxiliary transporters of 5-HT, and how they relate to neurological stores of serotonin and its precursors. A deeper understanding of the many mechanisms by which 5-HT signaling can be disrupted, alone and in concert, may contribute to an improved understanding of the etiologies and heterogeneous nature of this disorder. We postulate that extreme bidirectional perturbations of these factors during development likely compound or synergize to facilitate enduring neurochemical changes resulting in insufficient or excessive 5-HT signaling, that could underlie the persistent behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-99
Number of pages15
JournalPharmacological Research
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • Serotonin homeostasis
  • Serotonin transporter
  • Tryptophan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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