Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for creating a sense of well-being and happiness. The researchers speculate that thirty percent of autism cases may have a serotonin component. In researching with the mice, Dr. Gould and the research team found that a medication called buspirone improved the social behavior in mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved buspirone for the treatment of anxiety and depression in adults. The way that buspirone works is to increase the transmission of serotonin between neurons.
The researchers separated mice into two groups, one a control and the other treated with buspirone. The social interaction behaviors of mice were gauged by placing the mice in a three-chamber social interaction test and placing a “stranger” mouse in one of the chambers. The mice treated with buspirone spent a longer time in the chamber with the stranger mouse and more time sniffing the stranger than the untreated mice.
Dr. Gould cautions that, "No animal model is completely characteristic of humans, and we're far from saying that buspirone is a treatment for behaviors of autistic people…but this does offer further proof that serotonin is involved in a significant proportion of autism cases."
Moving forward, Dr. Gould intends to study the link between diet that naturally increases serotonin and social behavior.
Source: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio