[caption id="attachment_1377" align="alignleft" width="300"] Image courtsey of Renjith Krishnan[/caption] New Study between Autism and Immune System The connection between the immune system and autism spectrum disorders has been thrown around a lot by researchers and parents alike. The truth is that there is more about autism that we don’t know than we do know. However, trying to find links between manifestations of ASD and other seemingly related problems can help to lift the veil of secrecy off of the disorder. It is with this idea in mind that researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center sought to look into the immune systems of autistic individuals versus non-autistic siblings of autistic individuals. Reviewing the Findings The findings of this study, titled “Plasma Cytokine Levels in Children with Autistic Disorder and Unrelated Siblings,” will be published in the April issue of The International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience. Its major conclusion, as alluded to in the title, is that the level of cytokines in the plasma of autistic children was much lower than that of the non-autistic siblings. Cytokines can be proteins, peptides or glycoproteins and are known as the messengers and regulators of the immune system. Their job is to relay intercellular messages. Therefore, cytokines have an effect on their surrounding cells. In the case of the subjects of this study, 29 specific cytokines were measured. The most dramatic differences were found in the levels of five cytokines related to the T-helper cell immune system and three involved in the production of red blood cells. These numbers seem to support the theory that the immune system of autistic children may play a role in the presence and/or manifestation of the disorder. Immunity and genetics are the most studied causes of autism spectrum disorder. This study, which included Professor Merlin G. Butler from the University of Kansas Medical Center, is one of the largest immune-based autism studies to date. The research team looked at samples from 99 autistic children whose ages ranged from 5 to 10 years and an associated 40 non-related children who matched the original samples in terms of age and gender. Implications and Further Research While Butler admits that the immune-based theory is one of many on the radar for autism researchers, he is optimistic about his study’s findings. He said in a press release that, “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.” This attitude seems to confirm that the results of this study could help medical professionals in the future to identify and treat autism spectrum disorders earlier, which is one important key in success with an autistic child. Next, Butler and the team intend to take the results of this study and apply it towards finding a link between the genes that encode immune-related proteins and cytokines and those with ASD. He would also like to identify the progression of events during critical brain and neurological development periods in autistic and non-autistic children. His hope is that this will allow for earlier recognition of ASD, which will then lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
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