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1.  Non-Specialist Psychosocial Interventions for Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disability or Lower-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001572.
In a systematic review, Brian Reichow and colleagues assess the evidence that non-specialist care providers in community settings can provide effective interventions for children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The development of effective treatments for use by non-specialists is listed among the top research priorities for improving the lives of people with mental illness worldwide. The purpose of this review is to appraise which interventions for children with intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders delivered by non-specialist care providers in community settings produce benefits when compared to either a no-treatment control group or treatment-as-usual comparator.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched electronic databases through 24 June 2013 to locate prospective controlled studies of psychosocial interventions delivered by non-specialist providers to children with intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders. We screened 234 full papers, of which 34 articles describing 29 studies involving 1,305 participants were included. A majority of the studies included children exclusively with a diagnosis of lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders (15 of 29, 52%). Fifteen of twenty-nine studies (52%) were randomized controlled trials and just under half of all effect sizes (29 of 59, 49%) were greater than 0.50, of which 18 (62%) were statistically significant. For behavior analytic interventions, the best outcomes were shown for development and daily skills; cognitive rehabilitation, training, and support interventions were found to be most effective for improving developmental outcomes, and parent training interventions to be most effective for improving developmental, behavioral, and family outcomes. We also conducted additional subgroup analyses using harvest plots. Limitations include the studies' potential for performance bias and that few were conducted in lower- and middle-income countries.
The findings of this review support the delivery of psychosocial interventions by non-specialist providers to children who have intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Given the scarcity of specialists in many low-resource settings, including many lower- and middle-income countries, these findings may provide guidance for scale-up efforts for improving outcomes for children with developmental disorders or lower-functioning autism spectrum disorders.
Protocol Registration
PROSPERO CRD42012002641
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Newborn babies are helpless, but over the first few years of life, they acquire motor (movement) skills, language (communication) skills, cognitive (thinking) skills, and social (interpersonal interaction) skills. Individual aspects of these skills are usually acquired at specific ages, but children with a development disorder such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disability (mental retardation) fail to reach these “milestones” because of impaired or delayed brain maturation. Autism, Asperger syndrome, and other ASDs (also called pervasive developmental disorders) affect about 1% of the UK and US populations and are characterized by abnormalities in interactions and communication with other people (reciprocal socio-communicative interactions; for example, some children with autism reject physical affection and fail to develop useful speech) and a restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoire of interests (for example, obsessive accumulation of facts about unusual topics). About half of individuals with an ASD also have an intellectual disability—a reduced overall level of intelligence characterized by impairment of the skills that are normally acquired during early life. Such individuals have what is called lower-functioning ASD.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most of the children affected by developmental disorders live in low- and middle-income countries where there are few services available to help them achieve their full potential and where little research has been done to identify the most effective treatments. The development of effective treatments for use by non-specialists (for example, teachers and parents) is necessary to improve the lives of people with mental illnesses worldwide, but particularly in resource-limited settings where psychiatrists, psychologists, and other specialists are scarce. In this systematic review, the researchers investigated which psychosocial interventions for children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning ASDs delivered by non-specialist providers in community settings produce improvements in development, daily skills, school performance, behavior, or family outcomes when compared to usual care (the control condition). A systematic review identifies all the research on a given topic using predefined criteria; psychosocial interventions are defined as therapy, education, training, or support aimed at improving behavior, overall development, or specific life skills without the use of drugs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 29 controlled studies (investigations with an intervention group and a control group) that examined the effects of various psychosocial interventions delivered by non-specialist providers to children (under 18 years old) who had a lower-functioning ASD or intellectual disability. The researchers retrieved information on the participants, design and methods, findings, and intervention characteristics for each study, and calculated effect sizes—a measure of the effectiveness of a test intervention relative to a control intervention—for several outcomes for each intervention. Across the studies, three-quarters of the effect size estimates were positive, and nearly half were greater than 0.50; effect sizes of less than 0.2, 0.2–0.5, and greater than 0.5 indicate that an intervention has no, a small, or a medium-to-large effect, respectively. For behavior analytic interventions (which aim to improve socially significant behavior by systematically analyzing behavior), the largest effect sizes were seen for development and daily skills. Cognitive rehabilitation, training, and support (interventions that facilitates the relearning of lost or altered cognitive skills) produced good improvements in developmental outcomes such as standardized IQ tests in children aged 6–11 years old. Finally, parental training interventions (which teach parents how to provide therapy services for their child) had strong effects on developmental, behavioral, and family outcomes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Because few of the studies included in this systematic review were undertaken in low- and middle-income countries, the review's findings may not be generalizable to children living in resource-limited settings. Moreover, other characteristics of the included studies may limit the accuracy of these findings. Nevertheless, these findings support the delivery of psychosocial interventions by non-specialist providers to children who have intellectual disabilities or a lower-functioning ASD, and indicate which interventions are likely to produce the largest improvements in developmental, behavioral, and family outcomes. Further studies are needed, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, to confirm these findings, but given that specialists are scarce in many resource-limited settings, these findings may help to inform the implementation of programs to improve outcomes for children with intellectual disabilities or lower-functioning ASDs in low- and middle-income countries.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Bello-Mojeed and Bakare
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information (in English and Spanish) on developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability
The US National Institute of Mental Health also provides detailed information about autism spectrum disorders, including the publication “A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder”
Autism Speaks, a US non-profit organization, provides information about all aspects of autism spectrum disorders and includes information on the Autism Speaks Global Autism Public Health Initiative
The National Autistic Society, a UK charity, provides information about all aspects of autism spectrum disorders and includes personal stories about living with these conditions
The UK National Health Service Choices website has an interactive guide to child development and information about autism and Asperger syndrome, including personal stories, and about learning disabilities
The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence provides clinical guidelines for the management and support of children with autism spectrum disorders
The World Health Organization provides information on its Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which includes recommendations on the management of developmental disorders by non-specialist providers; the mhGAP Evidence Resource Center provides evidence reviews for parent skills training for management of children with intellectual disabilities and pervasive developmental disorders and interventions for management of children with intellectual disabilities
PROSPERO, an international prospective register of systematic reviews, provides more information about this systematic review
PMCID: PMC3866092  PMID: 24358029
2.  Behavioural and skill-based early interventions in children with autism spectrum disorders 
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) comprise typical or infantile autism (Kanner syndrome), Asperger’s disorder and atypical autism or pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified. The syndrome is characterized by deficits in (1) verbal and nonverbal communication, (2) reciprocal social interaction and (3) repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities.
Early behavioural interventions are based on learning theory and behaviour therapy. They take into account specific deficits in perception, emotional reactions, social interaction and communication. In Germany, these comprehensive models are not widely evaluated and implemented.
Research questions
What are the clinical effectiveness and safety of early behavioural or skills-based early interventions in autism compared to other interventions or to treatment as usual?What are specific factors responsible for the effectiveness?What are the cost-effectiveness and cost consequences of different early interventions in autism?Which legal, social and ethical aspects are relevant with regard to the implementation of the respective interventions in persons with autism?
Following a systematic review of the literature, controlled studies on early behavioural or skills-based interventions published since 2000 in English or German with children until the age of twelve are included and critically appraised. Studies must have at least ten participants per intervention group.
In total, 15 publications based on 14 studies, eight systematic reviews and one health economic study are included. Most studies evaluate early interventions based upon the Lovaas model (Early intensive behavioural treatment (EIBT), Applied behavioural analysis (ABA)). Other evaluate pragmatic interventions or interventions based on other theoretical models like specific parent interventions, responsive education and prelinguistic milieu teaching, joint attention, symbolic play, and picture exchange communication system. Behaviour analytic interventions referring to the Lovaas model remain the most empirically evaluated early interventions in autism. Preschool children with autism can achieve improvements in cognitive and functional domains when treated within behavioural interventions with a frequency of at least 20 hours per week. It is not clear which is the minimum duration of effective interventions, and which active components are necessary for the effectiveness. There was no high quality evidence for other comprehensive early interventions. The identified health economic study is not suitable to evaluate the cost-effectiveness or cost consequences of early interventions. No publications concerning legal, ethical or social aspects were identified. The financial situation of persons with autisms and their families will be improved through the implementation of the “Pflege-Weiterententwicklungsgesetz” (Pf-WG). Further questions concern the organisation of care and the legal representation of autistic patients. Ethical questions arise mainly in the context of the equal supply of care to each individual patient in all regions of the country and the situation of the caregivers.
There are only a few studies with high methodology evaluating early interventions in children with autism. Most studies have a short duration with a lack of blinded outcome assessment in many cases. The lack of high quality comparative studies does not allow answering questions of comparative effectiveness of early interventions in autism. It can be concluded that interventions referring to the Lovaas model seem to have the highest effectiveness. This seems to be especially true when they are run clinic-based. However, there was no solid evidence with regard to factors responsible for the effectiveness of programms according to the ABA model. With regard to communication improvement, a systematic parent training seems to be superior to treatment as usual where a mixture of therapeutic elements is used. As well for clinical and health economic studies there is a substantial problem of generalisability into the German context. The identified health economic study is not suitable to evaluate the cost-effectiveness or cost consequences of early interventions.
Based on the available studies, there is no sufficient evidence for any of the evaluated behavioural early intervention programmes. Studies suggest that preschool children with autism in behavioural intervention programmes with a frequency of at least 20 hours per week can achieve improvements in cognitive and functional domains. There is no evidence that in a substantial portion of the children a normal development can be achieved by early interventions. Most research evidence is available for ABA. A minimal necessary intensity of interventions to achieve positive outcomes cannot be derived from literature. There are no valid statements possible as to cost-effectiveness or consequences of these interventions. Effective early interventions may reduce total autism costs in the long run. This may be achieved when the initial high treatment expenditures are more than compensated later if persons with this disorder have better social functioning.
PMCID: PMC3011283  PMID: 21289897
3.  Effectiveness of Methylcobalamin and Folinic Acid Treatment on Adaptive Behavior in Children with Autistic Disorder Is Related to Glutathione Redox Status 
Autism Research and Treatment  2013;2013:609705.
Treatments targeting metabolic abnormalities in children with autism are limited. Previously we reported that a nutritional treatment significantly improved glutathione metabolism in children with autistic disorder. In this study we evaluated changes in adaptive behaviors in this cohort and determined whether such changes are related to changes in glutathione metabolism. Thirty-seven children diagnosed with autistic disorder and abnormal glutathione and methylation metabolism were treated with twice weekly 75 µg/Kg methylcobalamin and twice daily 400 µg folinic acid for 3 months in an open-label fashion. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS) and glutathione redox metabolites were measured at baseline and at the end of the treatment period. Over the treatment period, all VABS subscales significantly improved with an average effect size of 0.59, and an average improvement in skills of 7.7 months. A greater improvement in glutathione redox status was associated with a greater improvement in expressive communication, personal and domestic daily living skills, and interpersonal, play-leisure, and coping social skills. Age, gender, and history of regression did not influence treatment response. The significant behavioral improvements observed and the relationship between these improvements to glutathione redox status suggest that nutritional interventions targeting redox metabolism may benefit some children with autism.
PMCID: PMC3810468  PMID: 24224089
4.  Inborn errors in the metabolism of glutathione 
Glutathione is a tripeptide composed of glutamate, cysteine and glycine. Glutathione is present in millimolar concentrations in most mammalian cells and it is involved in several fundamental biological functions, including free radical scavenging, detoxification of xenobiotics and carcinogens, redox reactions, biosynthesis of DNA, proteins and leukotrienes, as well as neurotransmission/neuromodulation. Glutathione is metabolised via the gamma-glutamyl cycle, which is catalyzed by six enzymes. In man, hereditary deficiencies have been found in five of the six enzymes. Glutathione synthetase deficiency is the most frequently recognized disorder and, in its severe form, it is associated with hemolytic anemia, metabolic acidosis, 5-oxoprolinuria, central nervous system (CNS) damage and recurrent bacterial infections. Gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase deficiency is also associated with hemolytic anemia, and some patients with this disorder show defects of neuromuscular function and generalized aminoaciduria. Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase deficiency has been found in patients with CNS involvement and glutathionuria. 5-Oxoprolinase deficiency is associated with 5-oxoprolinuria but without a clear association with other symptoms. Dipeptidase deficiency has been described in one patient. All disorders are very rare and inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. Most of the mutations are leaky so that many patients have residual enzyme activity. Diagnosis is made by measuring the concentration of different metabolites in the gamma-glutamyl cycle, enzyme activity and in glutathione synthetase and gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase deficiency, also by mutation analysis. Prenatal diagnosis has been preformed in glutathione synthetase deficiency. The prognosis is difficult to predict, as few patients are known, but seems to vary significantly between different patients. The aims of the treatment of glutathione synthesis defects are to avoid hemolytic crises and to increase the defense against reactive oxygen species. No treatment has been recommended for gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase, 5-oxoprolinase and dipeptidase deficiency.
PMCID: PMC1852094  PMID: 17397529
5.  Age-Dependent Brain Gene Expression and Copy Number Anomalies in Autism Suggest Distinct Pathological Processes at Young Versus Mature Ages 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002592.
Autism is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder, yet the genetic underpinnings of the disorder are largely unknown. Aberrant brain overgrowth is a well-replicated observation in the autism literature; but association, linkage, and expression studies have not identified genetic factors that explain this trajectory. Few studies have had sufficient statistical power to investigate whole-genome gene expression and genotypic variation in the autistic brain, especially in regions that display the greatest growth abnormality. Previous functional genomic studies have identified possible alterations in transcript levels of genes related to neurodevelopment and immune function. Thus, there is a need for genetic studies involving key brain regions to replicate these findings and solidify the role of particular functional pathways in autism pathogenesis. We therefore sought to identify abnormal brain gene expression patterns via whole-genome analysis of mRNA levels and copy number variations (CNVs) in autistic and control postmortem brain samples. We focused on prefrontal cortex tissue where excess neuron numbers and cortical overgrowth are pronounced in the majority of autism cases. We found evidence for dysregulation in pathways governing cell number, cortical patterning, and differentiation in young autistic prefrontal cortex. In contrast, adult autistic prefrontal cortex showed dysregulation of signaling and repair pathways. Genes regulating cell cycle also exhibited autism-specific CNVs in DNA derived from prefrontal cortex, and these genes were significantly associated with autism in genome-wide association study datasets. Our results suggest that CNVs and age-dependent gene expression changes in autism may reflect distinct pathological processes in the developing versus the mature autistic prefrontal cortex. Our results raise the hypothesis that genetic dysregulation in the developing brain leads to abnormal regional patterning, excess prefrontal neurons, cortical overgrowth, and neural dysfunction in autism.
Author Summary
Autism is a disorder characterized by aberrant social, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. It develops clinically in the first years of life. Toddlers and children with autism often exhibit early brain enlargement and excess neuron numbers in the prefrontal cortex. Adults with autism generally do not display enlargement but instead may have a smaller brain size. Thus, we investigated DNA and mRNA patterns in prefrontal cortex from young versus adult postmortem individuals with autism to identify age-related gene expression differences as well as possible genetic correlates of abnormal brain enlargement, excess neuron numbers, and abnormal functioning in this disorder. We found abnormalities in genetic pathways governing cell number, neurodevelopment, and cortical lateralization in autism. We also found that the key pathways associated with autism are different between younger and older autistic individuals. These findings suggest that dysregulated gene pathways in the early stages of neurodevelopment could lead to later behavioral and cognitive deficits associated with autism.
PMCID: PMC3310790  PMID: 22457638
6.  Nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism vs. neurotypical children, and the association with autism severity 
The relationship between relative metabolic disturbances and developmental disorders is an emerging research focus. This study compares the nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism with that of neurotypical children and investigates the possible association of autism severity with biomarkers.
Participants were children ages 5-16 years in Arizona with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (n = 55) compared with non-sibling, neurotypical controls (n = 44) of similar age, gender and geographical distribution. Neither group had taken any vitamin/mineral supplements in the two months prior to sample collection. Autism severity was assessed using the Pervasive Development Disorder Behavior Inventory (PDD-BI), Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC), and Severity of Autism Scale (SAS). Study measurements included: vitamins, biomarkers of vitamin status, minerals, plasma amino acids, plasma glutathione, and biomarkers of oxidative stress, methylation, sulfation and energy production.
Biomarkers of children with autism compared to those of controls using a t-test or Wilcoxon test found the following statistically significant differences (p < 0.001): Low levels of biotin, plasma glutathione, RBC SAM, plasma uridine, plasma ATP, RBC NADH, RBC NADPH, plasma sulfate (free and total), and plasma tryptophan; also high levels of oxidative stress markers and plasma glutamate. Levels of biomarkers for the neurotypical controls were in good agreement with accessed published reference ranges. In the Autism group, mean levels of vitamins, minerals, and most amino acids commonly measured in clinical care were within published reference ranges.
A stepwise, multiple linear regression analysis demonstrated significant associations between several groups of biomarkers with all three autism severity scales, including vitamins (adjusted R2 of 0.25-0.57), minerals (adj. R2 of 0.22-0.38), and plasma amino acids (adj. R2 of 0.22-0.39).
The autism group had many statistically significant differences in their nutritional and metabolic status, including biomarkers indicative of vitamin insufficiency, increased oxidative stress, reduced capacity for energy transport, sulfation and detoxification. Several of the biomarker groups were significantly associated with variations in the severity of autism. These nutritional and metabolic differences are generally in agreement with other published results and are likely amenable to nutritional supplementation. Research investigating treatment and its relationship to the co-morbidities and etiology of autism is warranted.
PMCID: PMC3135510  PMID: 21651783
7.  Autism 
Clinical Evidence  2010;2010:0322.
Evidence for the efficacy of treatments for autism has improved in recent years. In this systematic review the evidence for both drug and non-drug treatments is appraised and clinical guidance is provided for their use.
Methods and outcomes
We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of early intensive multidisciplinary intervention programmes in children with autism? What are the effects of dietary interventions in children with autism? What are the effects of drug treatments in children with autism? What are the effects of non-drug treatments in children with autism? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to May 2009 (Clinical evidence reviews are updated periodically; please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
We found 30 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: applied behavioural analysis; auditory integration training; Autism Preschool Programme; casein-free diet; chelation; Child’s Talk programme; cognitive behavioural therapy; digestive enzymes; EarlyBird programme; facilitated communication; Floortime therapy; gluten-free diet; immunoglobulins; melatonin; memantine; methylphenidate; More Than Words programme; music therapy; olanzapine; omega-3 fish oil; picture exchange communication system; Portage scheme; probiotics; relationship development interventions; risperidone; secretin; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); sensory integration training; social stories; social skills training; Son-Rise programme; TEACCH; vitamin A; vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) plus magnesium; and vitamin C.
Key Points
Autism is one of a group of pervasive developmental disorders, and is characterised by qualitative impairments in communication and social interaction, and by repetitive and stereotyped behaviours and interests. Abnormal development is present before the age of 3 years. A quarter of affected children show developmental regression, with loss of previously acquired skills.One third of children with autism have epilepsy, and three quarters have mental retardation. Only 15% of adults with autism will lead independent lives.Twin and family studies suggest that most cases of autism occur because of a combination of genetic factors. Autism is not caused by perinatal factors or by the MMR vaccine.
It may be difficult to apply the results of research in practice, as improvements in outcomes assessed in RCTs using standardised assessment tools may not correlate with improvements in function in a particular child with autism.
Some interventions are administered by (or in conjunction with) parents, and may be carried out in the home. Consideration of the direct financial costs, indirect costs (through possible lost earnings), and the impact on relationships within the family (to siblings or spouse) must be balanced against likely and possible improvements in outcome for the child with autism.
There is a lack of good-quality evidence on the effectiveness of early multidisciplinary intervention programmes, or for other treatments for children with autism. There is consensus, supported by a systematic review, that early intensive behavioural interventions are likely to be beneficial in children with autism.Attendance at a "More Than Words" training course for parents may improve communication between parents and children, as may participation in Child's Talk. There is consensus that the Autism Preschool Programme and TEACCH may be effective, although no RCTs or cohort studies evaluating these interventions have been found.We don't know whether early intervention using the EarlyBird programme, the Portage scheme, Relationship-Development Intervention, Social stories, music therapy, CBT, facilitated communication or Son-Rise are beneficial in children with autism.
Methylphenidate may reduce hyperactivity in children with autism. Methylphenidate may increase social withdrawal and irritability. Growth and blood pressure monitoring are required.
Risperidone may improve behaviour in children with autism compared with placebo, but its use is limited by adverse effects such as weight gain, drowsiness, prolactinaemia, and tremors.
There is consensus that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) improve symptoms in children with autism, although no RCTs have been found. The adverse effects of SSRIs, including possible increases in agitation, hostility, and suicidal ideation, are well documented.
We don't know whether auditory integration training, sensory integration training, chelation, a gluten- and casein-free diet, digestive enzymes, omega-3 fish oil, secretin, vitamin A, vitamin B6 plus magnesium, melatonin, olanzapine, or vitamin C are beneficial for treating children with autism, as few studies have been found.
PMCID: PMC2907623  PMID: 21729335
8.  Glutathione Redox Control of Asthma: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2012;17(2):375-408.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways associated with airway hyper-responsiveness and airflow limitation in response to specific triggers. Whereas inflammation is important for tissue regeneration and wound healing, the profound and sustained inflammatory response associated with asthma may result in airway remodeling that involves smooth muscle hypertrophy, epithelial goblet-cell hyperplasia, and permanent deposition of airway extracellular matrix proteins. Although the specific mechanisms responsible for asthma are still being unraveled, free radicals such as reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are important mediators of airway tissue damage that are increased in subjects with asthma. There is also a growing body of literature implicating disturbances in oxidation/reduction (redox) reactions and impaired antioxidant defenses as a risk factor for asthma development and asthma severity. Ultimately, these redox-related perturbations result in a vicious cycle of airway inflammation and injury that is not always amenable to current asthma therapy, particularly in cases of severe asthma. This review will discuss disruptions of redox signaling and control in asthma with a focus on the thiol, glutathione, and reduced (thiol) form (GSH). First, GSH synthesis, GSH distribution, and GSH function and homeostasis are discussed. We then review the literature related to GSH redox balance in health and asthma, with an emphasis on human studies. Finally, therapeutic opportunities to restore the GSH redox balance in subjects with asthma are discussed. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 17, 375–408.
I. Introduction and Conceptual Framework
II. Glutathione Synthesis
III. Distribution of Glutathione in the Body
IV. Glutathione Function and Homeostasis
A. Glutathione as a cysteine reservoir
B. Xenobiotic conjugation and detoxification
C. Free radical scavenging
D. Maintenance of thiol equilibrium
E. Protein S-glutathionylation
F. Regulation of cell surface proteins
G. Protection against nitrosative stress from RNS
V. Glutathione Redox Balance in Health
A. Intracellular glutathione redox status
B. Plasma glutathione redox status
C. Epithelial lining fluid glutathione redox status
VI. Glutathione Redox Balance in Asthma
A. Airway glutathione concentrations in asthma, measured invasively
B. Airway glutathione concentrations in asthma, measured noninvasively
C. Systemic glutathione concentrations in asthma
D. Glutathione redox balance in asthma: Effect of corticosteroids
VII. Other Glutathione-Related Proteins and Redox Systems in Asthma
A. Glutathione peroxidases
B. Glutathione reductases
C. Glutathione-S-transferases
D. Nitrosoglutathione
E. Thioredoxins
F. Glutaredoxins
G. Peroxiredoxins
VIII. Physiological and Biological Implications of Altered Glutathione Redox Balance in Asthma
IX. Altered Glutathione Redox Balance in Asthma: Therapeutic Opportunities
A. Glutathione and glutathione-ethyl esters
B. Cysteine precursors
C. Dietary interventions
1. Selenium
2. Whey protein
3. Sulfur amino acids
4. B vitamins
5. Glutamine and glycine
X. Clinical Implications and Future Directions
PMCID: PMC3353819  PMID: 22304503
9.  A systematic review with meta-analysis of comprehensive interventions for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): study protocol 
BMJ Open  2012;2(2):e000679.
The aims of this study are to (1) conduct a systematic review of the intervention literature in preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including types of interventions that are tested and the classification of outcome measures used and (2) to undertake a meta-analysis of the studies, allowing for the first time the comparison of different approaches to intervention using comparative outcomes. There are a number of alternative modalities of intervention for preschool children with ASD in use with different theoretical background and orientation, each of which tend to use different trial designs and outcome measures. There is at this time an urgent need for comprehensive systematic review and meta-analyses of intervention studies for preschool children with ASD, covering studies of adequate quality across different intervention types and measurement methods, with a view to identifying the best current evidence for preschool interventions in the disorder.
Methods and analysis
The authors will perform a systematic review of randomised controlled trials for preschool children with ASD aged 0–6 years, along with a meta-analysis of qualifying studies across intervention modality. The authors will classify the interventions for preschool children with ASD under three models: behaviour, multimodal developmental and communication focused. First, the authors will perform a systematic review. Then, the authors will conduct a meta-analysis by comparing the three models with various outcomes using an inverse variance method in a random effect model. The authors will synthesise each outcome of the studies for the three models using standardised mean differences.
Dissemination and ethics
This study will identify each intervention's strengths and weaknesses. This study may also suggest what kinds of elements future intervention programmes for children with ASD should have. The authors strongly believe those findings will be able to translated into the clinical practices and patients and their family benefits. Review registration: PROSPERO CRD42011001349.
Article summary
Article focus
This is a protocol of a systematic review and meta-analysis of comprehensive interventions for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
We will conduct a systematic review of the intervention literature in preschool ASD, including type of intervention that is tested and classification of outcome measures used.
We will undertake a meta-analysis of the studies, allowing for the first time the comparison of different approaches to intervention using comparative outcomes.
Key messages
We will classify the interventions for preschool ASD under three models: behaviour, multimodal developmental and communication focused.
We will perform a systematic review and conduct a meta-analysis by comparing the three models with various outcomes.
Strengths and limitations of this study
This study will identify each intervention's strengths and weaknesses.
This study may also suggest what kinds of elements future intervention programmes for children with ASD should have.
The measures used for outcome are varied between studies, and the standardised data will be heterogeneous. We do not assume that each study is estimating exactly the same quantity. However, those heterogeneous data can be synthesised in the analyses using random effects models.
PMCID: PMC3298837  PMID: 22396224
10.  Metabolic endophenotype and related genotypes are associated with oxidative stress in children with autism 
Autism is a behaviorally-defined neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed in early childhood that is characterized by impairment in reciprocal communication and speech, repetitive behaviors, and social withdrawal. Although both genetic and environmental factors are thought to be involved, none have been reproducibly identified. The metabolic phenotype of an individual reflects the influence of endogenous and exogenous factors on genotype. As such, it provides a window through which the interactive impact of genes and environment may be viewed and relevant susceptibility factors identified. Although abnormal methionine metabolism has been associated with other neurologic disorders, these pathways and related polymorphisms have not been evaluated in autistic children. Plasma levels of metabolites in methionine transmethylation and transsulfuration pathways were measured in 80 autistic and 73 control children. In addition, common polymorphic variants known to modulate these metabolic pathways were evaluated in 360 autistic children and 205 controls. The metabolic results indicated that plasma methionine and the ratio of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) to S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH), an indicator of methylation capacity, were significantly decreased in the autistic children relative to age-matched controls. In addition, plasma levels of cysteine, glutathione, and the ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione, an indication of antioxidant capacity and redox homeostasis, were significantly decreased. Differences in allele frequency and/or significant gene-gene interactions were found for relevant genes encoding the reduced folate carrier (RFC 80G>A), transcobalamin II (TCN2 776G>C), catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT 472G>A), methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR 677C>T and 1298A>C), and GST M1. We propose that an increased vulnerability to oxidative stress (endogenous or environmental) may contribute to the development and clinical manifestations of autism.
PMCID: PMC2610366  PMID: 16917939
autism; oxidative stress; genotype; glutathione; methionine
11.  Redox metabolism abnormalities in autistic children associated with mitochondrial disease 
Translational Psychiatry  2013;3(6):e273-.
Research studies have uncovered several metabolic abnormalities associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including mitochondrial disease (MD) and abnormal redox metabolism. Despite the close connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, the relation between MD and oxidative stress in children with ASD has not been studied. Plasma markers of oxidative stress and measures of cognitive and language development and ASD behavior were obtained from 18 children diagnosed with ASD who met criteria for probable or definite MD per the Morava et al. criteria (ASD/MD) and 18 age and gender-matched ASD children without any biological markers or symptoms of MD (ASD/NoMD). Plasma measures of redox metabolism included reduced free glutathione (fGSH), oxidized glutathione (GSSG), the fGSH/GSSG ratio and 3-nitrotyrosine (3NT). In addition, a plasma measure of chronic immune activation, 3-chlorotyrosine (3CT), was also measured. Language was measured using the preschool language scale or the expressive one-word vocabulary test (depending on the age), adaptive behaviour was measured using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS) and core autism symptoms were measured using the Autism Symptoms Questionnaire and the Social Responsiveness Scale. Children with ASD/MD were found to have lower scores on the communication and daily living skill subscales of the VABS despite having similar language and ASD symptoms. Children with ASD/MD demonstrated significantly higher levels of fGSH/GSSG and lower levels of GSSG as compared with children with ASD/NoMD, suggesting an overall more favourable glutathione redox status in the ASD/MD group. However, compare with controls, both ASD groups demonstrated lower fGSH and fGSH/GSSG, demonstrating that both groups suffer from redox abnormalities. Younger ASD/MD children had higher levels of 3CT than younger ASD/NoMD children because of an age-related effect in the ASD/MD group. Both ASD groups demonstrated significantly higher 3CT levels than control subjects, suggesting that chronic inflammation was present in both groups of children with ASD. Interestingly, 3NT was found to correlate positively with several measures of cognitive function, development and behavior for the ASD/MD group, but not the ASD/NoMD group, such that higher 3NT concentrations were associated with more favourable adaptive behaviour, language and ASD-related behavior. To determine whether difference in receiving medications and/or supplements could account for the differences in redox and inflammatory biomarkers across ASD groups, we examined differences in medication and supplements across groups and their effect of redox and inflammatory biomarkers. Overall, significantly more participants in the ASD/MD group were receiving folate, vitamin B12, carnitine, co-enzyme Q10, B vitamins and antioxidants. We then determined whether folate, carnitine, co-enzyme Q10, B vitamins and/or antioxidants influenced redox or inflammatory biomarkers. Antioxidant supplementation was associated with a significantly lower GSSG, whereas antioxidants, co-enzyme Q10 and B vitamins were associated with a higher fGSH/GSSG ratio. There was no relation between folate, carnitine, co-enzyme Q10, B vitamins and antioxidants with 3NT, 3CT or fGSH. Overall, our findings suggest that ASD/MD children with a more chronic oxidized microenvironment have better development. We interpret this finding in light of the fact that more active mitochondrial can create a greater oxidized microenvironment especially when dysfunctional. Thus, compensatory upregulation of mitochondria which are dysfunctional may both increase activity and function at the expense of a more oxidized microenvironment. Although more ASD/MD children were receiving certain supplements, the use of such supplements were not found to be related to the redox biomarkers that were related to cognitive development or behavior in the ASD/MD group but could possibly account for the difference in glutathione metabolism noted between groups. This study suggests that different subgroups of children with ASD have different redox abnormalities, which may arise from different sources. A better understanding of the relationship between mitochondrial dysfunction in ASD and oxidative stress, along with other factors that may contribute to oxidative stress, will be critical to understanding how to guide treatment and management of ASD children. This study also suggests that it is important to identify ASD/MD children as they may respond differently to specific treatments because of their specific metabolic profile.
PMCID: PMC3693408  PMID: 23778583
autism; inflammation; endophenotypes; mitochondrial disease; oxidative stress
12.  Comparison of white matter integrity between autism spectrum disorder subjects and typically developing individuals: a meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging tractography studies 
Molecular Autism  2013;4:25.
Aberrant brain connectivity, especially with long-distance underconnectivity, has been recognized as a candidate pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorders. However, a number of diffusion tensor imaging studies investigating people with autism spectrum disorders have yielded inconsistent results.
To test the long-distance underconnectivity hypothesis, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging studies in subjects with autism spectrum disorder. Diffusion tensor imaging studies comparing individuals with autism spectrum disorders with typically developing individuals were searched using MEDLINE, Web of Science and EMBASE from 1980 through 1 August 2012. Standardized mean differences were calculated as an effect size of the tracts.
A comprehensive literature search identified 25 relevant diffusion tensor imaging studies comparing autism spectrum disorders and typical development with regions-of-interest methods. Among these, 14 studies examining regions of interest with suprathreshold sample sizes were included in the meta-analysis. A random-effects model demonstrated significant fractional anisotropy reductions in the corpus callosum (P = 0.023, n = 387 (autism spectrum disorders/typically developing individuals: 208/179)), left uncinate fasciculus (P = 0.011, n = 242 (117/125)), and left superior longitudinal fasciculus (P = 0.016, n = 182 (96/86)), and significant increases of mean diffusivity in the corpus callosum (P = 0.006, n = 254 (129/125)) and superior longitudinal fasciculus bilaterally (P = 0.031 and 0.011, left and right, respectively, n = 109 (51/58)), in subjects with autism spectrum disorders compared with typically developing individuals with no significant publication bias.
The current meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging studies in subjects with autism spectrum disorders emphasizes important roles of the superior longitudinal fasciculus, uncinate fasciculus, and corpus callosum in the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorders and supports the long-distance underconnectivity hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC3726469  PMID: 23876131
Autistic disorder; Asperger; Brain; Human; Imaging; Pervasive developmental disorder
13.  Novel metabolic biomarkers related to sulfur-dependent detoxification pathways in autistic patients of Saudi Arabia 
BMC Neurology  2011;11:139.
Xenobiotics are neurotoxins that dramatically alter the health of the child. In addition, an inefficient detoxification system leads to oxidative stress, gut dysbiosis, and immune dysfunction. The consensus among physicians who treat autism with a biomedical approach is that those on the spectrum are burdened with oxidative stress and immune problems. In a trial to understand the role of detoxification in the etiology of autism, selected parameters related to sulfur-dependent detoxification mechanisms in plasma of autistic children from Saudi Arabia will be investigated compared to control subjects.
20 males autistic children aged 3-15 years and 20 age and gender matching healthy children as control group were included in this study. Levels of reduced glutathione (GSH), total (GSH+GSSG), glutathione status (GSH/GSSG), glutathione reductase (GR), glutathione- s-transferase (GST), thioredoxin (Trx), thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) and peroxidoxins (Prxs I and III) were determined.
Reduced glutathione, total glutathione, GSH/GSSG and activity levels of GST were significantly lower, GR shows non-significant differences, while, Trx, TrxR and both Prx I and III recorded a remarkably higher values in autistics compared to control subjects.
The impaired glutathione status together with the elevated Trx and TrxR and the remarkable over expression of both Prx I and Prx III, could be used as diagnostic biomarkers of autism.
PMCID: PMC3217885  PMID: 22051046
14.  S-Glutathionylation: From Molecular Mechanisms to Health Outcomes 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2011;15(1):233-270.
Redox homeostasis governs a number of critical cellular processes. In turn, imbalances in pathways that control oxidative and reductive conditions have been linked to a number of human disease pathologies, particularly those associated with aging. Reduced glutathione is the most prevalent biological thiol and plays a crucial role in maintaining a reduced intracellular environment. Exposure to reactive oxygen or nitrogen species is causatively linked to the disease pathologies associated with redox imbalance. In particular, reactive oxygen species can differentially oxidize certain cysteine residues in target proteins and the reversible process of S-glutathionylation may mitigate or mediate the damage. This post-translational modification adds a tripeptide and a net negative charge that can lead to distinct structural and functional changes in the target protein. Because it is reversible, S-glutathionylation has the potential to act as a biological switch and to be integral in a number of critical oxidative signaling events. The present review provides a comprehensive account of how the S-glutathionylation cycle influences protein structure/function and cellular regulatory events, and how these may impact on human diseases. By understanding the components of this cycle, there should be opportunities to intervene in stress- and aging-related pathologies, perhaps through prevention and diagnostic and therapeutic platforms. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 15, 233–270.
I. Introduction
A. Glutathione homeostasis
B. Proximal donors for S-glutathionylation reactions
II. Detection of S-Glutathionylation
A. Antibody detection of S-glutathionylation
B. Analytical detection and quantification of P-SSG
III. Enzymes That Catalyze the S-Glutathionylation Cycle
A. Proteins with S-glutathionylase activity
1. Glutathione S-transferases
2. Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase
3. Grx1 and Grx2
B. Proteins with deglutathionylase activity
IV. Redox Regulation of Kinase Signaling Pathways
A. S-glutathionylation and modulation of mitogenic signaling
1. Ras-MEK-ERK pathway
2. Protein tyrosine phosphatases
3. Protein kinase A
B. Phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-Akt-p53 pathway
C. I kappa B kinase-nuclear factor kappa B pathway
D. JNK-c-Jun pathway
V. S-Glutathionylation and Modulation of Survival/Apoptosis
A. S-glutathionylation of death receptors
B. S-glutathionylation of caspases
VI. Redox Regulation of Calcium-Dependent Proteins
A. Protein kinase C
B. Sarco/ER calcium ATPase
C. Nitric oxide synthase
VII. S-Glutathionylation and Ubiquitin-Proteasome Pathway
VIII. S-Glutathionylation and Unfolded Protein Response
A. Signaling pathways in the unfolded protein response
B. Protein disulfide isomerase
IX. Redox Regulation of Cell Migration and Mobilization
A. S-glutathionylation of cytoskeletal proteins
B. Redox regulation of bone marrow mobilization
X. Cancer and Redox Homeostasis
A. Energy metabolism
B. S-glutathionylation and tumor metastasis
C. S100 proteins in cancer and leukocyte migration
1. S100B
2. S100A8 and S100A9
XI. Redox Dysregulation in Pathophysiology
A. Liver injury
B. Diabetes mellitus
C. Cardiovascular disease
D. Traumatic brain injury
XII. Neurological Diseases and Redox Pathways
A. Parkinson's disease
B. Alzheimer's disease
C. Huntington's disease
D. Friedreich's ataxia
E. Amylotrophic lateral sclerosis
XIII. Conclusions
PMCID: PMC3110090  PMID: 21235352
15.  Glutathione is a Physiologic Reservoir of Neuronal Glutamate 
Glutamate, the principal excitatory neurotransmitter of the brain, participates in a multitude of physiologic and pathologic processes, including learning and memory. Glutathione, a tripeptide composed of the amino acids glutamate, cysteine, and glycine, serves important cofactor roles in antioxidant defense and drug detoxification, but glutathione deficits occur in multiple neuropsychiatric disorders. Glutathione synthesis and metabolism are governed by a cycle of enzymes, the γ-glutamyl cycle, which can achieve intracellular glutathione concentrations of 1-10 millimolar. Because of the considerable quantity of brain glutathione and its rapid turnover, we hypothesized that glutathione may serve as a reservoir of neural glutamate. We quantified glutamate in HT22 hippocampal neurons, PC12 cells and primary cortical neurons after treatment with molecular inhibitors targeting three different enzymes of the glutathione metabolic cycle. Inhibiting 5-oxoprolinase and γ-glutamyl transferase, enzymes that liberate glutamate from glutathione, leads to decreases in glutamate. In contrast, inhibition of γ-glutamyl cysteine ligase, which uses glutamate to synthesize glutathione, results in substantial glutamate accumulation. Increased glutamate levels following inhibition of glutathione synthesis temporally precede later effects upon oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC3923312  PMID: 21539809
Glutathione; Glutamate; Neurons; Antioxidants; Glutamyl cycle; Neurotransmitter
16.  Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder 
It has been suggested that peptides from gluten and casein may have a role in the origins of autism and that the physiology and psychology of autism might be explained by excessive opioid activity linked to these peptides. Research has reported abnormal levels of peptides in the urine and cerebrospinal fluid of people with autism.
To determine the efficacy of gluten and/or casein free diets as an intervention to improve behaviour, cognitive and social functioning in individuals with autism.
Search methods
The following electronic databases were searched: CENTRAL(The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2007), MEDLINE (1966 to April 2007), PsycINFO (1971 to April 2007), EMBASE (1974 to April 2007), CINAHL (1982 to April 2007), ERIC (1965 to 2007), LILACS (1982 to April 2007), and the National Research register 2007 (Issue1). Review bibliographies were also examined to identify potential trials.
Selection criteria
All randomised controlled trials (RCT) involving programmes which eliminated gluten, casein or both gluten and casein from the diets of individuals diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder.
Data collection and analysis
Abstracts of studies identified in searches of electronic databases were assessed to determine inclusion by two independent authors The included trials did not share common outcome measures and therefore no meta-analysis was possible. Data are presented in narrative form.
Main results
Two small RCTs were identified (n = 35). No meta-analysis was possible. There were only three significant treatment effects in favour of the diet intervention: overall autistic traits, mean difference (MD) = −5.60 (95% CI −9.02 to −2.18), z = 3.21, p=0.001 (Knivsberg 2002) ; social isolation, MD = −3.20 (95% CI −5.20 to 1.20), z = 3.14, p = 0.002) and overall ability to communicate and interact, MD = 1.70 (95% CI 0.50 to 2.90), z = 2.77, p = 0.006) (Knivsberg 2003). In addition three outcomes showed no significant difference between the treatment and control group and we were unable to calculate mean differences for ten outcomes because the data were skewed. No outcomes were reported for disbenefits including harms.
Authors’ conclusions
Research has shown of high rates of use of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) for children with autism including gluten and/or casein exclusion diets. Current evidence for efficacy of these diets is poor. Large scale, good quality randomised controlled trials are needed.
PMCID: PMC4164915  PMID: 18425890
Autistic Disorder [*diet therapy; etiology; psychology]; Caseins [administration & dosage; adverse effects]; Glutens [administration & dosage; adverse effects]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Child; Humans
17.  Heavy Metals and Trace Elements in Hair and Urine of a Sample of Arab Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder 
Mædica  2011;6(4):247-257.
General information: Autism is a severe developmental disorder which involves social withdrawal, communication deficits, and stereotypic/repetitive behavior. The pathophysiological etiologies which precipitate autism symptoms remain elusive and controversial in many cases, but both genetic and environmental factors (and their interactions) have been implicated. While autism is considered multicausal, environmental factors have received significant attention. International discussion has ocused on neurotoxins such as mercury and lead, suggesting that these and other toxic metals contribute to the development of the disorder. An epidemiological study released in 2006 (Palmer et al.) linking Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data on mercury to special education data in Texas reported a 61% increase in autism prevalence rates (or 17% adjusted) per 1000 pounds of mercury released into the environment (1). We attempted to further evaluate whether exposure to variable environmental contributes to the genesis of autistic spectrum disorder, and thus is a factor increasing the risk for developing autism symptoms in utero or in early childhood.
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine possible environmental risk factors and sources of exposure to mercury and other heavy metals in children with autism spectrum disorder versus controls. Through laboratory diagnostics we are able to distinguish between present and past exposure (i.e. hair analysis measurements reflect past exposure), urinary excretion levels of unprovoked urine represent immediate exposure. By assessing a spectrum of trace elements and heavy metals in hair and urine of both autistic and control groups, we focused on the participants≈ past and present exposure.
Methodology: The participants were 25 Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children (22 boys and 3 girls) between the age of 3 and 9 years. They were either diagnosed previously by other psychiatrist, psychologist, and developmental pediatrician or suspected by their parents as being autistic. All children were attendants to the Child Psychiatric Clinic in Erfan Psychiatric Hospital in Jeddah, KSA. Samples were collected during the period of June 2006 to March 2008. A control group of 25 children without any psychiatric or medical disorders was age-matched and sex-matched. All parents signed informed consent forms. All autistic children were subjected to a full clinical child psychiatric sheet for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and exclusion of other psychiatric disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM IV). The severity of autistic symptomatology was measured by the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC) using the Arabic versions. Both groups were subjected to the Questionnaire on Exposure to Heavy Metals, Physical Symptoms, and Child Development. Hair and baseline urine samples (i.e. unprovoked urine) were taken from both groups and sent to the German clinical and environmental laboratory Micro Trace Minerals Gmbh, for the detection of heavy metals and trace elements levels where metal testing was performed via ICP-MS spectroscopy utilizing cell technique.
Results: By comparing the ASD Group to the Control Group, we found a statistically significant difference in the mean hair levels of arsenic, cadmium, barium, cerium and lead (p=0.01, 0.03, 0.003, 0.003, and 0.03 respectively), and in the mean hair levels of magnesium and zinc (p=0.001 and 0.003 respectively). There were also statistically significant differences in the mean urine levels of aluminum, barium, cerium, mercury, and lead (p=0.004, 002, 0.014, 0.006 and 0.004 respectively), and in the mean urine levels of copper and germanium (p=0.049 and 0.02 respectively). An agreement was found in both specimen (hair and urine) for barium and lead. The statistically significant differences in mean hair levels of arsenic, cadmium, and cerium were not supported by urine baseline levels. Also, the statistically significant magnesium and zinc levels of hair were not supported by urine levels. A disagreement was also found with copper and germanium concentrations.
PMCID: PMC3391939  PMID: 22879836
micronucleus; nucleoplasmic bridges; colon cancer
18.  Unique acyl-carnitine profiles are potential biomarkers for acquired mitochondrial disease in autism spectrum disorder 
Translational Psychiatry  2013;3(1):e220-.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been associated with mitochondrial disease (MD). Interestingly, most individuals with ASD and MD do not have a specific genetic mutation to explain the MD, raising the possibility of that MD may be acquired, at least in a subgroup of children with ASD. Acquired MD has been demonstrated in a rodent ASD model in which propionic acid (PPA), an enteric bacterial fermentation product of ASD-associated gut bacteria, is infused intracerebroventricularly. This animal model shows validity as it demonstrates many behavioral, metabolic, neuropathologic and neurophysiologic abnormalities associated with ASD. This animal model also demonstrates a unique pattern of elevations in short-chain and long-chain acyl-carnitines suggesting abnormalities in fatty-acid metabolism. To determine if the same pattern of biomarkers of abnormal fatty-acid metabolism are present in children with ASD, the laboratory results from a large cohort of children with ASD (n=213) who underwent screening for metabolic disorders, including mitochondrial and fatty-acid oxidation disorders, in a medically based autism clinic were reviewed. Acyl-carnitine panels were determined to be abnormal if three or more individual acyl-carnitine species were abnormal in the panel and these abnormalities were verified by repeated testing. Overall, 17% of individuals with ASD demonstrated consistently abnormal acyl-carnitine panels. Next, it was determined if specific acyl-carnitine species were consistently elevated across the individuals with consistently abnormal acyl-carnitine panels. Significant elevations in short-chain and long-chain, but not medium-chain, acyl-carnitines were found in the ASD individuals with consistently abnormal acyl-carnitine panels—a pattern consistent with the PPA rodent ASD model. Examination of electron transport chain function in muscle and fibroblast culture, histological and electron microscopy examination of muscle and other biomarkers of mitochondrial metabolism revealed a pattern consistent with the notion that PPA could be interfering with mitochondrial metabolism at the level of the tricarboxylic-acid cycle (TCAC). The function of the fatty-acid oxidation pathway in fibroblast cultures and biomarkers for abnormalities in non-mitochondrial fatty-acid metabolism were not consistently abnormal across the subgroup of ASD children, consistent with the notion that the abnormalities in fatty-acid metabolism found in this subgroup of children with ASD were secondary to TCAC abnormalities. Glutathione metabolism was abnormal in the subset of ASD individuals with consistent acyl-carnitine panel abnormalities in a pattern similar to glutathione abnormalities found in the PPA rodent model of ASD. These data suggest that there are similar pathological processes between a subset of ASD children and an animal model of ASD with acquired mitochondrial dysfunction. Future studies need to identify additional parallels between the PPA rodent model of ASD and this subset of ASD individuals with this unique pattern of acyl-carnitine abnormalities. A better understanding of this animal model and subset of children with ASD should lead to better insight in mechanisms behind environmentally induced ASD pathophysiology and should provide guidance for developing preventive and symptomatic treatments.
PMCID: PMC3566723  PMID: 23340503
acyl-carnitines; autism spectrum disorder; clostridia; microbiome; mitochondrial disease; propionic acid
19.  A key role for an impaired detoxification mechanism in the etiology and severity of autism spectrum disorders 
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a syndrome with a number of etiologies and different mechanisms that lead to abnormal development. The identification of autism biomarkers in patients with different degrees of clinical presentation (i.e., mild, moderate and severe) will give greater insight into the pathogenesis of this disease and will enable effective early diagnostic strategies and treatments for this disorder.
In this study, the concentration of two toxic heavy metals, lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg), were measured in red blood cells, while glutathione-s-transferase (GST) and vitamin E, as enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants, respectively, were measured in the plasma of subgroups of autistic patients with different Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) scores. The results were compared to age- and gender-matched healthy controls.
The obtained data showed that the patients with autism spectrum disorder had significantly higher Pb and Hg levels and lower GST activity and vitamin E concentrations compared with the controls. The levels of heavy metals (Hg and Pb), GST and vitamin E were correlated with the severity of the social and cognitive impairment measures (SRS and CARS). Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC) analysis and predictiveness curves indicated that the four parameters show satisfactory sensitivity, very high specificity and excellent predictiveness. Multiple regression analyses confirmed that higher levels of Hg and Pb, together with lower levels of GST and vitamin E, can be used to predict social and cognitive impairment in patients with autism spectrum disorders.
This study confirms earlier studies that implicate toxic metal accumulation as a consequence of impaired detoxification in autism and provides insight into the etiological mechanism of autism.
PMCID: PMC4017810  PMID: 24776096
Autism Spectrum Disorder; Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS); Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS); Lead; Mercury; Glutathione-s-transferase; Vitamin E
20.  Prenatal and perinatal analgesic exposure and autism: an ecological link 
Environmental Health  2013;12:41.
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental disorders. Susceptibility is believed to be the interaction of genetic heritability and environmental factors. The synchronous rises in autism/ASD prevalence and paracetamol (acetaminophen) use, as well as biologic plausibility have led to the hypothesis that paracetamol exposure may increase autism/ASD risk.
To explore the relationship of antenatal paracetamol exposure to ASD, population weighted average autism prevalence rates and paracetamol usage rates were compared. To explore the relationship of early neonatal paracetamol exposure to autism/ASD, population weighted average male autism prevalence rates for all available countries and U.S. states were compared to male circumcision rates – a procedure for which paracetamol has been widely prescribed since the mid-1990s. Prevalence studies were extracted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Summary of Autism/ASD Prevalence Studies database. Maternal paracetamol usage and circumcision rates were identified by searches on Pub Med.
Using all available country-level data (n = 8) for the period 1984 to 2005, prenatal use of paracetamol was correlated with autism/ASD prevalence (r = 0.80). For studies including boys born after 1995, there was a strong correlation between country-level (n = 9) autism/ASD prevalence in males and a country’s circumcision rate (r = 0.98). A very similar pattern was seen among U.S. states and when comparing the 3 main racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. The country-level correlation between autism/ASD prevalence in males and paracetamol was considerably weaker before 1995 when the drug became widely used during circumcision.
This ecological analysis identified country-level correlations between indicators of prenatal and perinatal paracetamol exposure and autism/ASD. State level correlation was also identified for the indicator of perinatal paracetamol exposure and autism/ASD. Like all ecological analyses, these data cannot provide strong evidence of causality. However, biologic plausibility is provided by a growing body of experimental and clinical evidence linking paracetamol metabolism to pathways shown to be important in autism and related developmental abnormalities. Taken together, these ecological findings and mechanistic evidence suggest the need for formal study of the role of paracetamol in autism.
PMCID: PMC3673819  PMID: 23656698
Paracetamol; Acetaminophen; Autism spectrum disorder; Sulfation; Glucuronidation; Pro-inflammatory cytokines
21.  Increased glutamate concentration in the auditory cortex of persons with autism and first-degree relatives: A 1H-MRS study 
Lay Abstract
We investigated brain chemistry of the primary region of the brain involved in auditory processing in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Due to the highly heritable nature of ASD and the lack of prior brain chemistry data on unaffected first-degree relatives, we also enrolled parents of children with ASD (pASD), comparing both groups to a healthy adult control group. The technique used to quantify chemical signals was magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which we used to assess the concentration of auditory glutamate, the primary excitatory brain neurotransmitter, as well as other metabolites that assess neuronal integrity and metabolism. We found significantly higher levels of auditory glutamate in persons with ASD. In addition, increases in two other metabolites, n-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), and creatine (Cr), were observed in the ASD group. No differences were observed in the pASD group in any MRS measurement. We interpret the glutamate finding as suggestive of an increase in brain excitability, and the NAA and Cr findings as indicative of a change in brain energy metabolism in ASD.
Scientific Abstract
Increased glutamate levels have been reported in the hippocampal and frontal regions of persons with autism using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). Although autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, MRS studies have not included relatives of persons with ASD. We therefore conducted a study to determine if glutamate levels are elevated in people with autism and parents of children with autism.
Single-voxel, point resolved spectroscopy (PRESS) data were acquired at 3T for left and right hemisphere auditory cortical voxels in 13 adults with autism, 15 parents of children with autism, and 15 adult control subjects. The primary measure was Glx. Additional measures included n-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), choline (Cho), myoinositol (mI) and creatine (Cr).
The autism group had significantly higher Glx, NAA and Cr concentrations than the control subjects. Parents did not differ from control subjects on any measures. No significant differences in Cho or mI levels were seen among groups. No reliable correlations between autism symptom measures and MRS variables were seen after Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.
The elevation in Glx in autism is consistent with prior MRS data in the hippocampus and frontal lobe and may suggest increased cortical excitability. Increased NAA and Cr may indicate brain metabolism disturbances in autism. In the current study, we found no reliable evidence of a familial effect for any spectroscopy measure. This may indicate that these metabolites have no heritable component in autism, the presence of a compensatory factor in parents, or sample specific limitations such the participation of singleton families.
PMCID: PMC3580156  PMID: 23166003
glutamate; n-acetyl-aspartate; creatine; spectroscopy; auditory cortex
22.  Sulphur flux through the sulphate assimilation pathway is differently controlled by adenosine 5′-phosphosulphate reductase under stress and in transgenic poplar plants overexpressing γ-ECS, SO, or APR 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2009;61(2):609-622.
Sulphate assimilation provides reduced sulphur for the synthesis of cysteine, methionine, and numerous other essential metabolites and secondary compounds. The key step in the pathway is the reduction of activated sulphate, adenosine 5′-phosphosulphate (APS), to sulphite catalysed by APS reductase (APR). In the present study, [35S]sulphur flux from external sulphate into glutathione (GSH) and proteins was analysed to check whether APR controls the flux through the sulphate assimilation pathway in poplar roots under some stress conditions and in transgenic poplars. (i) O-Acetylserine (OAS) induced APR activity and the sulphur flux into GSH. (ii) The herbicide Acetochlor induced APR activity and results in a decline of GSH. Thereby the sulphur flux into GSH or protein remained unaffected. (iii) Cd treatment increased APR activity without any changes in sulphur flux but lowered sulphate uptake. Several transgenic poplar plants that were manipulated in sulphur metabolism were also analysed. (i) Transgenic poplar plants that overexpressed the γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase (γ-ECS) gene, the enzyme catalysing the key step in GSH formation, showed an increase in sulphur flux into GSH and sulphate uptake when γ-ECS was targeted to the cytosol, while no changes in sulphur flux were observed when γ-ECS was targeted to plastids. (ii) No effect on sulphur flux was observed when the sulphite oxidase (SO) gene from Arabidopsis thaliana, which catalyses the back reaction of APR, that is the reaction from sulphite to sulphate, was overexpressed. (iii) When Lemna minor APR was overexpressed in poplar, APR activity increased as expected, but no changes in sulphur flux were observed. For all of these experiments the flux control coefficient for APR was calculated. APR as a controlling step in sulphate assimilation seems obvious under OAS treatment, in γ-ECS and SO overexpressing poplars. A possible loss of control under certain conditions, that is Cd treatment, Acetochlor treatment, and in APR overexpressing poplar, is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2803220  PMID: 19923196
APS synthetase; flux measurements; glutathione; poplar; roots; sulphate uptake; sulphite oxidase
23.  Can Asperger syndrome be distinguished from autism? An anatomic likelihood meta-analysis of MRI studies 
The question of whether Asperger syndrome can be distinguished from autism has attracted much debate and may even incur delay in diagnosis and intervention. Accordingly, there has been a proposal for Asperger syndrome to be subsumed under autism in the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, in 2013. One approach to resolve this question has been to adopt the criterion of absence of clinically significant language or cognitive delay — essentially, the “absence of language delay.” To our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of people with autism to compare absence with presence of language delay. It capitalizes on the voxel-based morphometry (VBM) approach to systematically explore the whole brain for anatomic correlates of delay and no delay in language acquisition in people with autism spectrum disorders.
We conducted a systematic search for VBM MRI studies of grey matter volume in people with autism. Studies with a majority (at least 70%) of participants with autism diagnoses and a history of language delay were assigned to the autism group (n = 151, control n = 190). Those with a majority (at least 70%) of individuals with autism diagnoses and no language delay were assigned to the Asperger syndrome group (n = 149, control n = 214). We entered study coordinates into anatomic likelihood estimation meta-analysis software with sampling size weighting to compare grey matter summary maps driven by Asperger syndrome or autism.
The summary autism grey matter map showed lower volumes in the cerebellum, right uncus, dorsal hippocampus and middle temporal gyrus compared with controls; grey matter volumes were greater in the bilateral caudate, prefrontal lobe and ventral temporal lobe. The summary Asperger syndrome map indicated lower grey matter volumes in the bilateral amygdala/hippocampal gyrus and prefrontal lobe, left occipital gyrus, right cerebellum, putamen and precuneus compared with controls; grey matter volumes were greater in more limited regions, including the bilateral inferior parietal lobule and the left fusiform gyrus. Both Asperger syndrome and autism studies reported volume increase in clusters in the ventral temporal lobe of the left hemisphere.
We assigned studies to autism and Asperger syndrome groups for separate analyses of the data and did not carry out a direct statistical group comparison. In addition, studies available for analysis did not capture the entire spectrum, therefore we cannot be certain that our findings apply to a wider population than that sampled.
Whereas grey matter differences in people with Asperger syndrome compared with controls are sparser than those reported in studies of people with autism, the distribution and direction of differences in each category are distinctive.
PMCID: PMC3201995  PMID: 21406158
24.  Gamma-Glutamyl Compounds: Substrate Specificity of Gamma-Glutamyl Transpeptidase Enzymes 
Analytical biochemistry  2011;414(2):208-214.
Gamma-glutamyl compounds include antioxidants, inflammatory molecules, drug metabolites and neuroactive compounds. Two cell surface enzymes have been identified that metabolize gamma-glutamyl compounds, gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT1) and gamma-glutamyl leukotrienase (GGT5). There is controversy in the literature regarding the substrate specificity of these enzymes. To address this issue, we have developed a method for comprehensive kinetics analysis of compounds as substrates for GGT enzymes. Our assay is sensitive, quantitative and is conducted at physiologic pH. We evaluated a series of gamma-glutamyl compounds as substrates for human GGT1 and human GGT5. The Kms for reduced glutathione were 11μM for both GGT1 and GGT5. However, the Km for oxidized glutathione was 9μM for GGT1 and 43μM for GGT5. Our data show that the Kms for leukotriene C4 are equivalent for GGT1 and GGT5 at 10.8μM and 10.2μM, respectively. This assay was also used to evaluate serine-borate, a well-known inhibitor of GGT1, which was 8-fold more potent in inhibiting GGT1 than inhibiting GGT5. These data provide essential information regarding the target enzymes for developing treatments for inflammatory diseases such as asthma and cardiovascular disease in humans. This assay is invaluable for studies of oxidative stress, drug metabolism and other pathways that involve gamma-glutamyl compounds.
PMCID: PMC3099546  PMID: 21447318
Glutathione; gamma-glutamyl substrates; gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase; gamma-glutamyl leukotrienase; glutamate assay
25.  Oxidative stress induces mitochondrial dysfunction in a subset of autistic lymphoblastoid cell lines 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(4):e377-.
There is an increasing recognition that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with autism spectrum disorders. However, little attention has been given to the etiology of mitochondrial dysfunction and how mitochondrial abnormalities might interact with other physiological disturbances such as oxidative stress. Reserve capacity is a measure of the ability of the mitochondria to respond to physiological stress. In this study, we demonstrate, for the first time, that lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) derived from children with autistic disorder (AD) have an abnormal mitochondrial reserve capacity before and after exposure to reactive oxygen species (ROS). Ten (44%) of 22 AD LCLs exhibited abnormally high reserve capacity at baseline and a sharp depletion of reserve capacity when challenged with ROS. This depletion of reserve capacity was found to be directly related to an atypical simultaneous increase in both proton-leak respiration and adenosine triphosphate-linked respiration in response to increased ROS in this AD LCL subgroup. In this AD LCL subgroup, 48-hour pretreatment with N-acetylcysteine, a glutathione precursor, prevented these abnormalities and improved glutathione metabolism, suggesting a role for altered glutathione metabolism associated with this type of mitochondrial dysfunction. The results of this study suggest that a significant subgroup of AD children may have alterations in mitochondrial function, which could render them more vulnerable to a pro-oxidant microenvironment as well as intrinsic and extrinsic sources of ROS such as immune activation and pro-oxidant environmental toxins. These findings are consistent with the notion that AD is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
PMCID: PMC4012280  PMID: 24690598

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