Many children with autism have elevated blood levels of serotonin a chemical with strong links to mood and anxiety. But what relevance this hyperserotonemia has for autism has remained a mystery.
New research by Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigators provides a physical basis for this phenomenon, which may have profound implications for the origin of some autism-associated deficits.
In an advance online publication in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Ana Carneiro, Ph.D., and colleagues report that a well-known protein found in blood platelets, integrin beta3, physically associates with and regulates the serotonin transporter (SERT), a protein that controls serotonin availability.
Autism, a prevalent childhood disorder, involves deficits in language, social communication and prominent rigid-compulsive traits. Serotonin has long been suspected to play a role in autism since elevated blood serotonin and genetic variations in the SERT have been linked to autism.
Alterations in brain serotonin have also been associated with anxiety, depression and alcoholism; antidepressants that block SERT (known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) block SERTs ability to sweep synapses clean of serotonin.
Working in the lab of Randy Blakely, Ph.D., Carneiro was searching for proteins that interact with SERT that might contribute to disorders where serotonin signaling is altered.
Levels of SERT in the brain are actually quite low, so we decided to see what progress we could make with peripheral cells that have much higher quantities, said Blakely, the Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Molecular Neuroscience. This took us to platelets.
In platelets, SERTs accumulate serotonin produced in the gut. SSRIs or genetic deletion of SERT in animals prevents serotonin uptake in the platelet.
Prior research had fingered the integrin b
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center