Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Blood glutamate levels in autism meta-analysed

"The meta-analysis provided evidence for higher blood glutamate levels in ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."

That was the research bottom-line reported by Zhen Zheng and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) who surveyed the current peer-reviewed science literature in this area and found something to see based on: "Twelve studies involving 880 participants and 446 incident cases."

Drawing on the idea that glutamate is a rather important amino acid that plays a role in various biological processes including that related to the manufacture of GABA (see here), Zheng et al observed higher circulating blood levels of the stuff; a sort-of proxy for what might also be going on with regards to brain levels of glutamate. That "excess glutamate has been shown to be a potent neurotoxin that leads to neuronal cell death and plays a role in the pathophysiology of some neuropsychiatric disorders" is an important point to make as to the potential implications from the Zheng meta-analysis.

Zheng et al do mention how important glutamate is for the purposes of GABA production and in particular, how issues with glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) - a key enzyme that converts glutamate into GABA - described in some cases of autism [2] might account for the elevated levels of glutamate yet the generally lower levels of GABA seen in autism (see here). I'd be inclined to agree that this is perhaps one of the more important implications for glutamate in autism; particularly when added to the whole 'glutamate linked to epilepsy' bit knowing how close a relationship autism and epilepsy seem to share (see here).

Where next with this research area I hear you ask? Well, I'd like to know a little more not just about glutamate but also another linked amino acid called glutamine. It has already been talked about in the autism research literature a while back (see here) but a lot more follow-up work is required on these two important compounds and what their differing ratio might mean. I'd also like to see more work done on the idea that "the mood stabilizer valproic acid, which exerts neuroprotective effects against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity, is effective in ASD [autism spectrum disorder] with seizures." Yes, I know that valproic acid a.k.a valproate is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to autism and other offspring developmental issues under certain circumstances (see here) but much like another research story in autism (see here) timing of exposure seems to be a key issue and one wonders whether other unrelated compounds might also exert a similar neuroprotective effect.

As to the idea that "blood glutamate levels may serve as a potential biomarker in the diagnosis of ASD" made by Zheng and colleagues, we'll wait and see...


[1] Zheng Z. et al. Blood Glutamate Levels in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2016 Jul 8;11(7):e0158688.

[2] Yip J. et al. Decreased GAD65 mRNA levels in select subpopulations of neurons in the cerebellar dentate nuclei in autism: an in situ hybridization study. Autism Res. 2009 Feb;2(1):50-9.

---------- Zheng Z, Zhu T, Qu Y, & Mu D (2016). Blood Glutamate Levels in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PloS one, 11 (7) PMID: 27390857