Are retinoids potential therapeutic agents in disorders of social cognition including autism?

Richard P. Ebstein, David Mankuta, Nurit Yirmiya, Fabio Malavasi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that the nonapeptide, oxytocin (OT), helps shape social and affiliative behaviors not only in lower mammals but also in humans. Recently, an essential mediator of brain OT release has been discovered, ADP-ribosyl cyclase and/or CD38. We have subsequently shown that polymorphisms across the CD38 gene are associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Notably, CD38 expression in lymphoblastoid cells (LBC) is reduced in cell lines derived from ASD subjects compared to parental cell lines. Intriguingly, a correlation was observed between CD38 expression and measures of social function in ASD. Finally, we have shown that all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), a known inducer of CD38 transcription, can rescue low CD38 expressing LBC lines derived from ASD subjects and restore normal levels of transcription of this ectoenzyme providing 'proof of principle' in a peripheral model that retinoids are potential therapeutic agents in ASD.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1529-1536
Number of pages8
JournalFEBS Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - 6 Jun 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Autism Speaks for partial support of this research (R.P.E.) as well as support (F.M.) by AIRC (Special Program Molecular and Clinical Oncology 5x1000) and by the Fondazione Internazionale Ricerca Medicina Sperimentale (FIRMS).


  • All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • CD38
  • Oxytocin
  • Polymorphism


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