Revisiting the Excitation / Inhibition Imbalance Hypothesis of ASD Through a Clinical Lens

Revisiting the Excitation / Inhibition Imbalance Hypothesis of ASD Through a Clinical Lens

British Journal of Radiology. 92(1101):20180944, 2019 Sep.

Port RG; Oberman LM; Roberts TP.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) currently affects 1 in 59 children, although the aetiology of this disorder remains unknown. Faced with multiple seemingly disparate and noncontiguous neurobiological alterations, Rubenstein and Merzenich hypothesized that imbalances between excitatory and inhibitory neurosignaling (E/I imbalance) underlie ASD. Since this initial statement, there has been a major focus examining this exact topic spanning both clinical and preclinical realms. The purpose of this article is to review the clinical neuroimaging literature surrounding E/I imbalance as an aetiology of ASD. Evidence for E/I imbalance is presented from several complementary clinical techniques including magnetic resonance spectroscopy, magnetoencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Additionally, two GABAergic potential interventions for ASD, which explicitly attempt to remediate E/I imbalance, are reviewed. The current literature suggests E/I imbalance as a useful framework for discussing the neurobiological etiology of ASD in at least a subset of affected individuals. While not constituting a completely unifying aetiology, E/I imbalance may be relevant as one of several underlying neuropathophysiologies that differentially affect individuals with ASD. Such statements do not diminish the value of the E/I imbalance concept-instead they suggest a possible role for the characterization of E/I imbalance, as well as other underlying neuropathophysiologies, in the biologically-based subtyping of individuals with ASD for potential applications including clinical trial enrichment as well as treatment triage.