Women whose children are severely autistic have lower serotonin levels than do those whose children have mild or moderate autism traits, a new study suggests.
Serotonin is a signaling molecule in the nervous system. Nearly one in three people with autism has elevated levels of serotonin in his blood. But it is unclear how serotonin levels relate to an individual’s autism traits.
The new study is the first to link maternal serotonin to autism traits in people: It hints that developmental problems worsen as maternal serotonin declines.
They confirmed autism diagnoses using standard diagnostic tests and used other scales to measure the autistic participants’ adaptive behavior and cognitive skills. A statistical model clustered the scores into three classes of severity: mild, moderate and high. The team also measured serotonin levels in the blood of the people with autism and their parents.
Women whose children score in the severe range have lower levels of serotonin than do those whose children have either mild or moderate features, on average. The study did not find an association between the autistic participants’ severity and their fathers’ serotonin levels or even their own serotonin levels.
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