- Written by Richard E. Frye and Daniel A. Rossignol
Despite the fact that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to rise, no effective medical treatments have become standard of care. In this paper we review some of the pathophysiological abnormalities associated with ASD and their potential associated treatments. Overall, there is evidence for some children with ASD being affected by seizure and epilepsy, neurotransmitter dysfunction, sleep disorders, metabolic abnormalities, including abnormalities in folate, cobalamin, tetrahydrobiopterin, carnitine, redox and mitochondrial metabolism, and immune and gastrointestinal disorders. Although evidence for an association between these pathophysiological abnormalities and ASD exists, the exact relationship to the etiology of ASD and its associated symptoms remains to be further defined in many cases. Despite these limitations, treatments targeting some of these pathophysiological abnormalities have been studied in some cases with high-quality studies, whereas treatments for other pathophysiological abnormalities have not been well studied in many cases.
There are some areas of more promising treatments specific for ASD including neurotransmitter abnormalities, particularly imbalances in glutamate and acetylcholine, sleep onset disorder (with behavioral therapy and melatonin), and metabolic abnormalities in folate, cobalamin, tetrahydrobiopterin, carnitine, and redox pathways. There is some evidence for treatments of epilepsy and seizures, mitochondrial and immune disorders, and gastrointestinal abnormalities, particularly imbalances in the enteric microbiome, but further clinical studies are needed in these areas to better define treatments specific to children with ASD. Clearly, there are some promising areas of ASD research that could lead to novel treatments that could become standard of care in the future, but more research is needed to better define subgroups of children with ASD who are affected by specific pathophysiological abnormalities and the optimal treatments for these abnormalities.