Psychosocial deficits across autism and schizotypal spectra are interactively modulated by excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission

Talitha C. Ford, David P. Crewther, Ahmad Abu-Akel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Continued human and animal research has strengthened evidence for aberrant excitatory–inhibitory neural processes underlying autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorder psychopathology, particularly psychosocial functioning, in clinical and nonclinical populations. We investigated the extent to which autistic traits and schizotypal dimensions were modulated by the interactive relationship between excitatory glutamate and inhibitory GABA neurotransmitter concentrations in the social processing area of the superior temporal cortex using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. In total, 38 non-clinical participants (20 females; age range = 18–35 years, mean (standard deviation) = 23.22 (5.52)) completed the autism spectrum quotient and schizotypal personality questionnaire, and underwent proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to quantify glutamate and GABA concentrations in the right and left superior temporal cortex. Regression analyses revealed that glutamate and GABA interactively modulated autistic social skills and schizotypal interpersonal features (pcorr < 0.05), such that those with high right superior temporal cortex glutamate but low GABA concentrations exhibited poorer social and interpersonal skills. These findings evidence an excitation–inhibition imbalance that is specific to psychosocial features across the autism and schizophrenia spectra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-373
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Swinburne Neuroimaging for their support through data collection and analysis. The authors also acknowledge the facilities of Swinburne Neuroimaging (SNI) and its flagship funding from the National Imaging Facility (NIF) under the National Collaborative Researcher Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) implemented by the Australian Government.

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded by a Swinburne University Neuroimaging Grant awarded to Prof. D.P.C. and Dr T.C.F., and a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia grant awarded to Prof. D.P.C. (APP1004740). Dr T.C.F. was supported by a Swinburne University Postgraduate Research Award.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • GABA
  • autism
  • glutamate
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • schizophrenia
  • social behavior
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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