Association Between Plasma Metabolites and Psychometric Scores Among Children With Developmental Disabilities: Investigating Sex-Differences

Jennie Sotelo-Orozco, Leonard Abbeduto, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Carolyn M. Slupsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Developmental disabilities are defined by delays in learning, language, and behavior, yet growing evidence has revealed disturbances in metabolic systems that may also be present. Little is known about whether these metabolic issues contribute to the symptoms or severity of these disabilities, or whether sex plays a role in these associations, given that boys are disproportionately affected by some developmental disabilities. Here we sought to investigate the correlation between psychometric scores, sex, and the plasma metabolome. Methods: The plasma metabolomes of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 167), idiopathic developmental delay (i-DD; n = 51), Down syndrome (DS; n = 31), and typically developing controls (TD; n = 193) were investigated using NMR spectroscopy. Spearman rank correlations and multiple linear regression models (adjusted for child's neurodevelopmental diagnosis, child's sex, child's age, child's race/ethnicity, maternal age at child's birth, and parental homeownership) were used to examine the association between plasma metabolites and sex in relation to psychometric measures of cognitive skills, adaptive behavior, and maladaptive behavior in our study population. Results: Higher levels of metabolites involved in cellular energy and mitochondrial function among children with ASD (fumarate and cis-aconitate), DS (lactate), and TD (pyruvate) are associated with poorer cognitive and adaptive subscales. Similarly, higher o-acetylcarnitine associated with deficits in cognitive subscales among all DS cases and TD boys, and carnitine correlated with increased maladaptive behavior among girls with ASD and girls with DS. Among children with DS, elevated myo-inositol, ornithine, and creatine correlated with poorer scores across several subscales. Even among TD cases, elevated 3-hydroxybutyrate correlated with decreased receptive language. In contrast, higher levels of glutamate were associated with better socialization skills among ASD cases. Even after adjusting for the child's neurodevelopmental diagnosis, sex, and other possible confounders, key metabolites including glycolysis metabolites (lactate and pyruvate), ketone bodies (3-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate), TCA cycle metabolites (cis-aconitate and fumarate), as well as ornithine were associated with deficits in multiple domains of cognitive function, adaptive skills, and aberrant behaviors. Conclusions: Our results highlight that some plasma metabolites may relate to specific functional subdomains within cognitive, adaptive, and behavioral development with some variation by diagnosis and sex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number579538
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Dec 22 2020


  • adaptive behavior
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • cognitive scores
  • down syndrome
  • maladaptive behavior
  • metabolites
  • metabolomics
  • sex-differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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