Now we know more about differences in the immune system of children with autism
Among the LSI-affiliated researchers who made headway into understanding autism in the last year was a team that included geneticist and physician, Merlin Butler, who found differences in cytokines, the immune system’s messengers and regulators, in children with autism disorder.
The researchers found that children with autistic disorder (AD) had lower plasma levels of several cytokines compared to those of children who had family members with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Both the immune system and genetic factors have been implicated in the biological basis for autism, Butler explained. “Our study further supports a disturbed immune system in children with classic autism that may be related to genetic factors, since cytokine proteins are coded by genes distributed among the human chromosomes.”
Butler said that studies of families with autism have shown deletions and duplications of chromosomes and mutations or variants found in genes involved with brain development and function.
“The importance of identifying early immunological disturbances that may contribute to autism can potentially help us with identifying risk factors, diagnosis and possibly intervention, as cytokines may play a role in the function of the developing brain.”
The study was one of the largest of its type so far, analyzing the plasma of 99 children with AD between five and ten years of age and that of 40 age and gender matched (unrelated) healthy siblings without AD.
Butler said that the direction of this research points toward linking the genes encoding immune-related proteins and cytokines to ASD along with identifying the sequence of events during critical periods of brain and neurological development.