According to a study in the April 2012 International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, the plasma of children with autism disorder (AD) had significantly lower levels of various cytokines, compared with that of unrelated healthy siblings from other families, who had family members with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cytokines are small proteins released by cells of the immune system that act as intercellular mediators and communicators between cells.
Researchers of the University of Kansas Medical Center analyzed 29 cytokine levels and discovered abnormal cytokine levels in five cells related to the T-helper cell immune system. They found three abnormal levels in the production of blood cells (hematopoiesis), which could potentially affect the production of antibodies that are needed in order to have a normally functioning immune system.
Merlin G. Butler, a professor of psychiatry at the KU Medical Center, said that the immune system and genetic factors are both affected in the biological basis for autism.
"Our study further supports a disturbed immune system in children with classic autism that may be related to genetic factors as cytokine proteins are coded by genes distributed among the human chromosomes."
He adds that studies in families with autism have discovered that in specific genes, involved with brain development and function, scientists found a significant contribution of genetics that included deletions and duplications of chromosomes and mutations or variants.
"The importance of identifying early immunological disturbances that may contribute to autism has implications for identifying risk factors, diagnosis and possibly intervention as cytokines may play a role in the function of the developing brain."
In one of the largest studies of its type to-date, the researchers examined the plasma of 99 AD children, aged between 5 and 10 years, and the plasma of 40 unrelated healthy siblings without AD, under the same clinical assessments, specimen processing and laboratory conditions. The healthy siblings were matched in terms of age and gender. According to the researchers, the male-to-female ratio was closely matched to that of the ASD population, and they note that five cytokines had gender-based differences.
Given that the study is one of only a few that utilizes nanoparticle technology to analyze cytokine patterns from peripheral blood in ASD children, which only needs very small quantities of plasma for analysis and uses standardized kits for cytokine assay, Butler underlines that this approach should also enable other scientists to examine findings of disturbed cytokines in ASD.
He concludes that this research is moving towards linking the genes encoding immune-related proteins and cytokines to ASD, along with identifying the sequence of the events during critical periods of brain and neurological development, which could mean an early recognition, diagnosis and potential therapy for ASD.
Written By Petra Rattue
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Autism and immune problems
posted by Bonita on 14 Jun 2012 at 8:28 pm
I have Asberger's and I have immune problems but I came into the world with both. My twin did not make it and I was premature at 4 pounds and could not breathe on my own h-and had to live in an incubator. I was born to a mother who is both dissociative and schizophrenic but she had a traumatic brain injury from being hit by a drunk driver at 4 years old and was crippled up for many years of her life.
I noticed going genograms that there is a relationship on both sides of my family even with in-laws not related that children of people with schizophrenia and manic depression have ended up with children with autism. The only connection I could make is that they were on similar medications while pregnant but cannot be sure.
The stress of being different makes the immune problems worse. I am very sensitive to chemicals and have trouble taking in nutrients. Medical treatments have destroyed my digestive system. There is a relationship to that also. I think it is a common problem with people in the range to have problems with allergies, chemical sensitivities, digestive problems, food allergies and problems with food additives and environmental contaminants. Kind of hard to sort it all out there is so much. I would agree with the article but more research needs to be done in this area.
posted by Roderick Young on 21 Apr 2012 at 6:28 am
Interesting article...but did the immune problem come first, or the autism? This could just be evidence of the effects of autism on the immune system? Stress, certainly caused in those affected by autism, has been shown to erode just these functional aspects of the immune system.
Potential treatment for NF-kB activation in autism
posted by MikeWag on 20 Apr 2012 at 2:08 pm
WillDav, Have you looked at the drug Auranofin (oral gold salt) as a potential treatment for the situation you describe above. I've been researching it for other reasons which I feel are related to autism/inflammation but from my research I found that;
"NF-kappa B is a transcription factor implicated in the expression of many inflammatory genes. NF-kappa B is activated by signal-induced phosphorylation and subsequent degradation of inhibitory I kappa B (inhibitory protein that dissociates from NF-kappa B) proteins, and a multisubunit I kappa B kinase (IKK) has been identified previously. A lipophilic gold compound, auranofin, suppressed the LPS-induced increase of nuclear kappa B-binding activity, degradation of I kappa B proteins, and IKK activation. Auranofin also blocked IKK activation induced by TNF alpha and PMA/ionomycin, suggesting that the target of auranofin action is common among these diverse signal pathways. Two catalytic subunits of IKK complex, IKK alpha and IKK beta, were both inhibited by this thiol-modifying agent, suggesting the presence of a cysteine sulfhydryl group in these subunits, which is critical for enzyme activity. The antiinflammatory activity of gold compounds may depend on modification of this thiol group by Auranofin."
NF-kB activation in autism and environmental chemicals
posted by WillDav on 19 Apr 2012 at 11:04 am
I've researched the pathogenesis of non-communicable diseases, including autism, for almost 30 years. Most are being caused by chronic, aberrant activation of an immune system 'master molecule', called NF-kB, and two research groups have recently confirmed that NF-kB is aberrantly activated in the brains of autistic infants.
Many genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors can contribute to such aberrant NF-kB activation, including exposure to environmental chemicals. In the case of autism, my research concludes that pre-natal exposure to environmental chemicals which disrupt the functioning of the GABA(A) receptor are a factor in the increasing incidence of the disease.
These chemicals include organophosphate, organochlorine and pyrethroid insecticides, phthalates, methyl mercury, bisphenol A and, perhaps most important, folic acid. There are probably many more. More information here:
'Autism Linked To Immune System Problems, Further Evidence Found'
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Asperger's syndrome is a form of autism - it is a developmental disorder that impacts on the individual's ability to communicate and socialize, among other things. It begins in childhood and persists through adulthood.