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Psychotropic Medication use in Autism Spectrum Disorders may Affect Functional Brain Connectivity

Brain colors 2017 Sep;2(6):518-527. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.06.008.

Linke AC1, Olson L1,2, Gao Y1,2, Fishman I1, Müller RA1.



Prescription of psychotropic medications is common in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), either off-label or to treat comorbid conditions such as ADHD or depression. Psychotropic medications are intended to alter brain function. Yet, studies investigating the functional brain organization in ASDs rarely take medication usage into account. This could explain some of the inconsistent findings of atypical brain network connectivity reported in the autism literature.


The current study tested whether functional connectivity patterns, as assessed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), differed in a cohort of 49 children and adolescents with ASDs based on psychotropic medication status, and in comparison with 50 matched typically developing (TD) participants. Twenty-five participants in the ASD group (51%) reported current psychotropic medication usage, including stimulants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics. Age, IQ, head motion, and ASD symptom severity did not differ between groups. Whole-brain functional connectivity between 132 regions of interest was assessed.


Different functional connectivity patterns were identified in the ASD group taking psychotropic medications (ASD-on), as compared to the TD group and the ASD subgroup not using psychotropic medications (ASD-none). The ASD-on group showed distinct underconnectivity between the cerebellum and basal ganglia but cortico-cortical overconnectivity compared to the TD group. Cortical underconnectivity relative to the TD pattern, on the other hand, was pronounced in the ASD-none group.


These results suggest that psychotropic medications may affect functional connectivity, and that medication status should be taken into consideration when studying brain function in autism.


bob moffit

@ Sharon

I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation of Dr. Peter Breggin's book, "Mad in America" to gain some understanding of how potentially dangerous psychotropic drugs are to some who are being liberally prescribed them.

I read Breggin's book a long time ago .. but .. I seem to remember reading the brain scans of people who suffered serious Physical Traumatic brain injuries .. such as football players .. show damage to the brain that is eerily similar to the brain scans of people who suffered no PHYSICAL INJURY ... but were long time users of prescribed SSI's.

Consider .. after every "mass shooting" .. we are immediately informed of the mentally deranged shooter's possible motive and the gun used .. it's make, model, magazine, whether licensed or not ... on and on.

Yet .. the ONE thing rarely mentioned except for the occasional dismissive admission the shooter had been prescribed SSI's .. is the NAME of the SSI used. Why is that information not given? Protecting the privacy of the shooter .. or .. the product he used?

The guy in Las Vagas had been prescribed medications .. as well as .. the guy in the Texas church .. who apparently had somehow "escaped" from incarceration for mental problems. I suspect if he had been forcibly incarcerated for mental problems .. he more than likely was prescribed SSI's sometime during his life. No?

Again .. for a few years now .. there are 22 suicides a day within our retired and serving military members .. yet no one dares mention whether or not most .. if not all .. of our military suicide victims had been using prescribed SSI's at the time they committed suicide.

Vicki Hill

Likely that those on the psychotropic drugs had more diagnoses than solely autism. So unless they were exactly matched for the full range of diagnoses (unlikely in such a small group), it is equally likely that the underlying variances in diagnoses were the cause of the variance in brain connectivity.

Sharon Kistler

Sounds like a pretty obvious conclusion to me.
Reminds me of the first studies on the brains of schizophrenia patients. Scans and fMRIs showed decreased white matter volume and underconnectivity in various parts of the brains, and the original conclusions were that the "disease" of schizophrenia caused the organic brain deterioration. But then someone was wise enough to do studies of schizophrenic patients on anti-psychotics versus those not on meds. And voila, it is the anti-psychotics that actually cause the brain to shrink and to not function as well.
One need only read from sources such as Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, Dr. Peter Breggin, Mad in America, Dr. David Healy RxISK, and Dr. Kelly Brogan to understand the REAL science behind the harm of psychotropics.

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