Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by impaired language, communication and social skills, as well as by repetitive and stereotypic patterns of behavior. Many autistic subjects display a dysregulation of the immune system which is compatible with an unresolved viral infection with prenatal onset, potentially due to vertical viral transmission. Recently, the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) has been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and in prostate cancer by several, though not all studies.
We assessed whether XMRV or other murine leukemia virus (MLV)-related viruses are involved in autistic disorder. Using nested PCR targeted to gag genomic sequences, we screened DNA samples from: (i) peripheral blood of 102 ASD patients and 97 controls, (ii) post-mortem brain samples of 20 ASD patients and 17 sex- and age-matched controls, (iii) semen samples of 11 fathers of ASD children, 25 infertile individuals and 7 fertile controls. No XMRV gag DNA sequences were detected, whereas peripheral blood samples of 3/97 (3.1%) controls were positive for MLV.
No MLV-related virus was detected in blood, brain, and semen samples of ASD patients or fathers. Hence infection with XMRV or other MLV-related viruses is unlikely to contribute to autism pathogenesis.