Health Tips: Saliva and Pupil Size Differences in Autism Show System in Overdrive

University of Kansas researchers have found a larger resting pupil size and lower levels of a salivary enzyme associated with the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in children with autism spectrum disorder.

However, even though the levels of the enzyme, salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), were lower than those of typically developing children in samples taken in the afternoon in the lab, samples taken at home throughout the day showed that sAA levels were higher in general across the day and much less variable for children with ASD.

“What this says is that the autonomic system of children with ASD is always on the same level,” Christa Anderson, assistant research professor, said. “They are in overdrive.”

The sAA levels of typically developing children gradually rise and fall over the day, said Anderson, who co-directed the study with John Colombo, professor of psychology.

Norepinephrine (NE) has been found in the blood plasma levels of individuals with ASD but some researchers have questioned whether these levels were just related to the stress from blood draws.

“Many theories of autism propose that the disorder is due to deficits in higher-order brain areas,” said Colombo. “Our findings, however, suggest that the core deficits may lie in areas of the brain typically associated with more fundamental, vital functions.”