Medicine & Pharmacology, Behavioral Neuroscience; autism spectrum disorders; fragile X syndrome (FXS); sleep disorder; melatonin
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most frequent monogenic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autistic FXS is caused by loss of the fmr1 gene product, the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), triggering physiological and behavioral abnormalities. It is correlated with clock components for behavioral circadian rhythm. Mutation of this gene causes the disturbances in sleep patterns and circadian behavior commonly observed in patients with autistic FXS, accompanied by frequent dysregulation of melatonin synthesis and melatonin-dependent signaling. These changes impair vigilance, learning and memory, and are also linked to autistic behavior including the abnormal anxiety response. However, although several possible causes, symptoms, and clinical features of ASD have been investigated, the correlation between an altered circadian rhythm and autistic FXS has not been extensively studied. Recent works have highlighted the impact of melatonin on the nervous, immune, and metabolic systems. Even though utilization of melatonin for sleep disorder in ASD has been considered in clinical research, further studies should be aimed at its neuroprotective role in ASD during developmental period. In this review, we focus on the regulatory circuits involved in melatonin dysregulation and circadian system disruption in those with autistic FXS. Additionally, we discuss the neuroprotective effect of melatonin intervention. This may improve neuroplasticity and physical capability. We also review the underlying molecular mechanisms, and suggest that melatonin may be a useful novel treatment for autistic FXS, countering the adverse effects of circadian variation.