Glutamate, the Brain, and Autism: Revisited

Author: Jeremy Robb
Published: December 05, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Child with autism self portrait, playing with his iPod Touch.Recently, in a search for another article entirely, I came across an article in the journal Autism Research that found increased glutamate and glutamine levels in children with autism compared to neurotypical children, or even their parents. The article explored possible inheritable glutamate levels, but found none (at least, based on the abstract). I have been unable to access the article directly, so if anyone out there has the full article, I would love to read it!

Anytime I read an article about glutamate, I'm reminded of an exchange I had with several members of the "MSG causes autism" camp. I had been unable to find any research that made that link, but remained open to any research that would make a direct link to autism and the ingestion of increased levels of glutamate.

Thinking this may be the case, I started some reading on neurobiology with relation to glutamate and glutamine, as well as nutritional biology when it comes to ingestion of glutamate.

Now, full disclosure, I am not a biologist, neurobiologist, biochemist, or nutritionist. If anyone out there can better enlighten me on the processes of glutamate through textbook or research article references, that would be great! But please, no articles from "health food" websites or Wikipedia. It's not that I don't trust their intentions, but rather their reference, or lack of, to scientific research.

So, glutamate. Glutamate is a neurotransporter, meaning it activates neurons, nerves, etc. and gets them running. Signals between neurons require glutamate in order to get from one place to another. According to the Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, glutamate mediates a lot of information. It also regulates brain development and information that determines cellular survival, differentiation, and elimination as well as elimination and formation of nerve contacts (your synapses). You have to have the right amount in your brain in the right place at the right time. Too much or too little glutamate in the brain can be toxic.

Glutamate therefore needs to be in the brain. But how is it stored? It's kept within the brain cells, meaning there is very little free-floating glutamate within the brain, up to 99.99%, in order to have the whole system work. That's because the glutamate receptors are only activated outside the cells, so keeping the glutamate within the cells keeps the system in balance.

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Article Author: Jeremy Robb

Scothoser is a Scottish-American, having grown up in the Rocky Mountains, now moved to San Diego. Having been raised by a farmer's daughter and a rancher's son, he has a love for the land, and a desire for self-sufficiency. …

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