Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a complex group of neurodevelopmental disorders encompassing impairments in communication, social interactions and restricted stereotypical behaviors. Although a link between altered immune responses and ASD was first recognized nearly 40 years ago, only recently has new evidence started to shed light on the complex multifaceted relationship between immune dysfunction and behavior in ASD. Neurobiological research in ASD has highlighted pathways involved in neural development, synapse plasticity, structural brain abnormalities, cognition and behavior. At the same time, several lines of evidence point to altered immune dysfunction in ASD that directly impacts some or all these neurological processes. Extensive alterations in immune function have now been described in both children and adults with ASD, including ongoing inflammation in brain specimens, elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine profiles in the CSF and blood, increased presence of brain-specific auto-antibodies and altered immune cell function. Furthermore, these dysfunctional immune responses are associated with increased impairments in behaviors characteristic of core features of ASD, in particular, deficits in social interactions and communication. This accumulating evidence suggests that immune processes play a key role in the pathophysiology of ASD. This review will discuss the current state of our knowledge of immune dysfunction in ASD, how these findings may impact on underlying neuro-immune mechanisms and implicate potential areas where the manipulation of the immune response could have an impact on behavior and immunity in ASD.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. A potential etiologic role for immune dysfunction in ASD has been suggested. Dynamic adaptive cellular immune function was investigated in 66 children with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD and 73 confirmed typically developing (TD) controls 2–5 years-of-age. In vitro stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with PHA and tetanus was used to compare group-associated cellular responses. The production of GM-CSF, TNFα, and IL-13 were significantly increased whereas IL-12p40 was decreased following PHA stimulation in ASD relative to TD controls. Induced cytokine production was associated with altered behaviors in ASD children such that increased pro-inflammatory or TH1 cytokines were associated with greater impairments in core features of ASD as well as aberrant behaviors. In contrast, production of GM-CSF and TH2 cytokines were associated with better cognitive and adaptive function. Following stimulation, the frequency of CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells expressing activation markers CD134 and CD25 but not CD69, HLA-DR or CD137 were significantly reduced in ASD, and suggests an altered activation profile for T cells in ASD. Overall these data indicate significantly altered adaptive cellular immune function in children with ASD that may reflect dysfunctional immune activation, along with evidence that these perturbations may be linked to disturbances in behavior and developmental functioning. Further longitudinal analyzes of cellular immunity profiles would delineate the relationship between immune dysfunction and the progression of behavioral and developmental changes throughout the course of this disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder estimated to affect 1 in 110 children in the U.S., yet the pathology of this disorder is not fully understood. Abnormal levels of several growth factors have been demonstrated in adults with ASD, including epidermal growth factor (EGF) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF). Both of these growth factors serve important roles in neurodevelopment and immune function. In this study, concentrations of EGF and HGF were assessed in the plasma of 49 children with ASD aged 2–4 years old and 31 typically developing controls of a similar age as part of the Autism Phenome Project (APP). Levels of EGF were significantly reduced in the ASD group compared to typically developing controls (P = 0.003). There were no significant differences in HGF levels in young children with ASD and typically developing controls. EGF plays an important role in regulating neural growth, proliferation, differentiation and migration, and reduced levels of this molecule may negatively impact neurodevelopment in young children with ASD.
A role for immune dysfunction has been suggested in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Elevated levels of chemokines have been detected in the brain and CSF of individuals with ASD but, to date, no study has examined chemokine levels in the plasma of children with this disorder. In the current study, we determined whether there were differential profiles of chemokines in the plasma of children with ASD compared to age-matched typically developing controls and children with developmental disabilities other than ASD. Increased MCP-1, RANTES and eotaxin levels were observed in ASD children compared with both control groups (p<0.03), and increased chemokine production was associated with higher aberrant behavior scores and more impaired developmental and adaptive function.. Elevated MCP-1, RANTES and eotaxin in some ASD children and their association with more impaired behaviors may have etiological significance. Chemokines and their receptors might provide unique targets for future therapies in ASD.
Autism is a heterogeneous disorder with a poorly understood biological basis. Some children with autism harbor plasma autoantibodies that target brain proteins. Similarly, some mothers of children with autism produce antibodies specific to autism that target pairs of fetal brain proteins at 37/73 kDa and 39/73kDa. We explored the relationship between the presence of brain-specific autoantibodies and several behavioral characteristics of autism in 277 children with an autism spectrum disorder and 189 typically developing age-matched controls. Further, we used maternal autoantibody data to investigate potential familial relationships for the production of brain-directed autoantibodies. We demonstrated by western blot that autoantibodies specific for a 45kDa cerebellar protein in children were associated with a diagnosis of autism (p=0.017) while autoantibodies directed towards a 62kDa protein were associated with the broader diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (p=0.043). Children with such autoantibodies had lower adaptive (p=0.0008) and cognitive function (p=0.005), as well as increased aberrant behaviors (p<0.05) compared to children without these antibodies. No correlation was noted for those mothers with the most specific pattern of anti-fetal brain autoantibodies and children with the autoantibodies to either the 45 or 62 kDa bands. Collectively, these data suggest that antibodies towards brain proteins in children are associated with lower adaptive and cognitive function as well as core behaviors associated with autism. It is unclear whether these antibodies have direct pathologic significance, or if they are merely a response to previous injury. Future studies are needed to determine the identities of the protein targets and explore their significance in autism.
Autism spectrum disorders; immune system; immunoglobulin; autoantibody; brain; cerebellum; neurodevelopment; behavior
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. A potential role for immune dysfunction has been suggested in ASD. To test this hypothesis, we investigated evidence of differential cytokine release in plasma samples obtained from 2-5 year-old children with ASD compared with age-matched typically developing (TD) children and children with developmental disabilities other than autism (DD). Participants were recruited as part of the population based case-control CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) study and included: 97 participants with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD using standard assessments (DSM IV criteria and ADOS, ADI-R), 87 confirmed TD controls, and 39 confirmed DD controls. Plasma was isolated and cytokine production was assessed by multiplex Luminex™ analysis. Observations indicate significant increases in plasma levels of a number of cytokines, including IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-12p40 in the ASD group compared with TD controls (p < 0.04). Moreover, when the ASD group was separated based on the onset of symptoms, it was noted that the increased cytokine levels were predominantly in ASD children who had a regressive form of ASD. In addition, increasing cytokine levels were associated with more impaired communication and aberrant behaviors. In conclusion, using larger number of participants than previous studies, we report significantly shifted cytokine profiles in ASD. These findings suggest that ongoing inflammatory responses may be linked to disturbances in behavior and require confirmation in larger replication studies. The characterization of immunological parameters in ASD has important implications for diagnosis, and should be considered when designing therapeutic strategies to treat core symptoms and behavioral impairments of ASD.
Gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction has been reported in a substantial number of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Activation of the mucosal immune response and the presence of abnormal gut microbiota are repeatedly observed in these children. In children with ASD, the presence of GI dysfunction is often associated with increased irritability, tantrums, aggressive behaviour, and sleep disturbances. Moreover, modulating gut bacteria with short-term antibiotic treatment can lead to temporary improvement in behavioral symptoms in some individuals with ASD. Probiotics can influence microbiota composition and intestinal barrier function and alter mucosal immune responses. The administration of probiotic bacteria to address changes in the microbiota might, therefore, be a useful novel therapeutic tool with which to restore normal gut microbiota, reduce inflammation, restore epithelial barrier function, and potentially ameliorate behavioural symptoms associated with some children with ASD. In this review of the literature, support emerges for the clinical testing of probiotics in ASD, especially in the context of addressing GI symptoms.
Immune anomalies have been documented in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and their family members. It is unknown whether the maternal immune profile during pregnancy is associated with the risk of bearing a child with ASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Using Luminex technology, levels of 17 cytokines and chemokines were measured in banked serum collected from women at 15 to 19 weeks of gestation who gave birth to a child ultimately diagnosed with (1) ASD (n = 84), (2) a developmental delay (DD) but not autism (n = 49) or (3) no known developmental disability (general population (GP); n = 159). ASD and DD risk associated with maternal cytokine and chemokine levels was estimated by using multivariable logistic regression analysis.
Elevated concentrations of IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-5 in midgestation maternal serum were significantly associated with a 50% increased risk of ASD, regardless of ASD onset type and the presence of intellectual disability. By contrast, elevated concentrations of IL-2, IL-4 and IL-6 were significantly associated with an increased risk of DD without autism.
The profile of elevated serum IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-5 was more common in women who gave birth to a child subsequently diagnosed with ASD. An alternative profile of increased IL-2, IL-4 and IL-6 was more common for women who gave birth to a child subsequently diagnosed with DD without autism. Further investigation is needed to characterize the relationship between these divergent maternal immunological phenotypes and to evaluate their effect on neurodevelopment.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in
social behavior, communication difficulties and the occurrence of repetitive
or stereotyped behaviors. There has been substantial evidence for
dysregulation of the immune system in autism.
We evaluated differences in the number and phenotype of circulating blood
cells in young children with autism (n = 70) compared
with age-matched controls (n = 35). Children with a
confirmed diagnosis of autism (4–6 years of age) were further
subdivided into low (IQ<68, n = 35) or high
functioning (IQ≥68, n = 35) groups. Age- and
gender-matched typically developing children constituted the control group.
Six hundred and forty four primary and secondary variables, including cell
counts and the abundance of cell surface antigens, were assessed using
microvolume laser scanning cytometry.
There were multiple differences in immune cell populations between the autism
and control groups. The absolute number of B cells per volume of blood was
over 20% higher for children with autism and the absolute number of
NK cells was about 40% higher. Neither of these variables showed
significant difference between the low and high functioning autism groups.
While the absolute number of T cells was not different across groups, a
number of cellular activation markers, including HLA-DR and CD26 on T cells,
and CD38 on B cells, were significantly higher in the autism group compared
These results support previous findings that immune dysfunction may occur in
some children with autism. Further evaluation of the nature of the
dysfunction and how it may play a role in the etiology of autism or in
facets of autism neuropathology and/or behavior are needed.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, together with the presence of repetitive behaviors or a limited repertoire of activities and interests. The causes of autism are currently unclear. In a previous study, we determined that 21% of children with autism have plasma autoantibodies that are immunoreactive with a population of neurons in the cerebellum that appear to be Golgi cells, which are GABAergic interneurons.
We have extended this analysis by examining plasma immunoreactivity in the remainder of the brain. To determine cell specificity, double-labeling studies that included one of the calcium-binding proteins that are commonly colocalized in GABAergic neurons (calbindin, parvalbumin or calretinin) were also carried out to determine which GABAergic neurons are immunoreactive. Coronal sections through the rostrocaudal extent of the macaque monkey brain were reacted with plasma from each of seven individuals with autism who had previously demonstrated positive Golgi cell staining, as well as six negative controls. In addition, brain sections from adult male mice were similarly examined.
In each case, specific staining was observed for neurons that had the morphological appearance of interneurons. By double-labeling sections with plasma and with antibodies directed against γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), we determined that all autoantibody-positive neurons were GABAergic. However, not all GABAergic neurons were autoantibody-positive. Calbindin was colabeled in several of the autoantibody-labeled cells, while parvalbumin colabeling was less frequently observed. Autoantibody-positive cells rarely expressed calretinin. Sections from the mouse brain processed similarly to the primate sections also demonstrated immunoreactivity to interneurons distributed throughout the neocortex and many subcortical regions. Some cell populations stained in the primate (such as the Golgi neurons in the cerebellum) were not as robustly immunoreactive in the mouse brain.
These results suggest that the earlier report of autoantibody immunoreactivity to specific cells in the cerebellum extend to other regions of the brain. Further, these findings confirm the autoantibody-targeted cells to be a subpopulation of GABAergic interneurons. The potential impact of these autoantibodies on GABAergic disruption with respect to the etiology of autism is discussed herein.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. Recent evidence has suggested that impairments of innate immunity may play an important role in ASD. To test this hypothesis, we isolated peripheral blood monocytes from 17 children with ASD and 16 age-matched typically developing (TD) controls and stimulated these cell cultures in vitro with distinct toll-like receptors (TLR) ligands: TLR2 (lipoteichoic acid; LTA), TLR3 (poly I:C), TLR4 (lipopolysaccharide; LPS), TLR5 (flagellin) and TLR9 (CpG-B). Supernatants were harvested from the cell cultures and pro-inflammatory cytokine responses for IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNFα, MCP-1, and GM-CSF were determined by multiplex Luminex analysis. After in vitro challenge with TLR ligands, differential cytokine responses were observed in monocyte cultures from children with ASD compared with TD control children. In particular, there was a marked increase in pro-inflammatory IL-1β, IL-6 and TNFα responses following TLR2, and IL-1β response following TLR4 stimulation in monocyte cultures from children with ASD (p<0.04). Conversely, following TLR9 stimulation there was a decrease in IL-1β, IL-6, GM-CSF and TNFα responses in monocyte cell cultures from children with ASD compared with controls (p<0.05). These data indicate that, monocyte cultures from children with ASD are more responsive to signaling via select TLRs. As monocytes are key regulators of the immune response, dysfunction in the response of these cells could result in long-term immune alterations in children with ASD that may lead to the development of adverse neuroimmune interactions and could play a role in the pathophysiology observed in ASD.
monocytes; Toll-Like receptors; autism; ASD; cytokines; inflammation
A potential role for TH17 cells has been suggested in a number of conditions including neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the current study, we investigated cellular release of IL-17 and IL-23 following an in-vitro immunological challenge of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from children with ASD compared to age-matched typically developing controls. Following stimulation, the concentration of IL-23, but not IL-17, was significantly reduced (p=0.021) in PBMC from ASD compared to controls. Decreased cellular IL-23 production in ASD warrants further research to determine its role on the generation and survival of TH17 cells, a cell subset important in neuroinflammatory conditions that may include ASD.
Autism spectrum disorders; cytokines; inflammation; IL-17; IL-23; lymphocytes; TH17 cells
An increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases in family members of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been previously reported. ASD is also a common problem co-occurring in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS). Why ASD occurs in some individuals with FXS, but not all, is largely unknown. Furthermore, in premutation carrier mothers, there is an increased risk for autoimmune diseases. This study compared the rate of ASD and other neurodevelopmental/behavioral problems in 61 children with FXS born to 41 carrier mothers who had autoimmune disease and in 97 children with FXS of 78 carrier mothers who did not have autoimmune disease. There were no significant differences in the mean age (9.61 ± 5.59 vs. 9.41 ± 6.31, P = 0.836), cognitive and adaptive functioning in children of mothers with and without autoimmune disease. Among children whose mothers had autoimmune disease, the odds ratio (OR) for ASD was 1.27 (95% CI 0.62–2.61, P = 0.5115). Interestingly, the OR for seizures and tics was 3.81 (95% CI 1.13–12.86, P = 0.031) and 2.94 (95% CI 1.19–7.24, P = 0.019), respectively, in children of mothers with autoimmune disease compared to children of mothers without autoimmune disease. In conclusion, autoimmune disease in carrier mothers was not associated with the presence of ASD in their children. However, seizures and tics were significantly increased in children of mothers with autoimmune disease. This suggests a potential new mechanism of seizure and tic exacerbation in FXS related to an intergenerational influence from autoimmunity in the carrier mother.
We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial to determine the feasibility and initial safety and efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids (1.3 g/day) for the treatment of hyperactivity in 27 children ages 3–8 with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After 12 weeks, hyperactivity, as measured by the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, improved 2.7 (±4.8) points in the omega-3 group compared to 0.3 (±7.2) points in the placebo group (p = 0.40; effect size = 0.38). Correlations were found between decreases in five fatty acid levels and decreases in hyperactivity, and the treatment was well tolerated. Although this pilot study did not find a statistically significant benefit from omega-3 fatty acids, the small sample size does not rule out small to moderate beneficial effects.
Autism; Omega-3 fatty acids; Complementary and alternative medicine; Clinical trial
Toxic exposures have been shown to influence maturation of the immune system during gestation. This study investigates the association between cord blood lymphocyte proportions and maternal exposure to air pollution during each gestational month.
Cord blood was analyzed using a FACSort flow cytometer to determine proportions of T lymphocytes (CD3+ cells and their subsets, CD4+ and CD8+), B lymphocytes (CD19+) and natural killer (NK) cells. Ambient air concentrations of 12 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and particulate matter < 2.5 micrometer in diameter (PM2.5) were measured using fixed site monitors. Arithmetic means of these pollutants, calculated for each gestational month, were used as exposure metrics. Data on covariates were obtained from medical records and questionnaires. Multivariable linear regression models were fitted to estimate associations between monthly PAH or PM2.5 and cord blood lymphocytes, adjusting for year of birth and district of residence and, in further models, gestational season and number of prior live births.
The adjusted models show significant associations between PAHs or PM2.5 during early gestation and increases in CD3+ and CD4+ lymphocytes percentages and decreases in CD19+ and NK cell percentages in cord blood. In contrast, exposures during late gestation were associated with decreases in CD3+ and CD4+ fractions and increases in CD19+ and NK cell fractions. There was no significant association between alterations in lymphocyte distribution and air pollution exposure during the mid gestation.
PAHs and PM2.5 in ambient air may influence fetal immune development via shifts in cord blood lymphocytes distributions. Associations appear to differ by exposure in early versus late gestation.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental disorders that manifest in childhood. Immune dysregulation and autoimmune reactivity may contribute to the etiology of ASD and are likely the result of both genetic and environmental susceptibilities. A common environmental contaminant, 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabrominated biphenyl (BDE-47), was tested for differential effects on the immune response of Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) isolated from children with ASD (n=19) and age-matched typically developing controls (TD, n=18). PBMC were exposed in vitro to either 100 nM or 500 nM BDE-47, before challenge with bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS), an innate immune activator, with resultant cytokine production measured using the Luminex™ multiplex platform. The cytokine responses of LPS stimulated PBMC from ASD and TD subjects diverged in the presence of 100 nM BDE. For example, cells cultured from the TD group demonstrated significantly decreased levels of the cytokines IL-12p40, GM-CSF, IL-6, TNFα, and the chemokines MIP-1α and MIP-1β following LPS stimulation of PBMC pretreated with 100 nM BDE-47 compared with samples treated with vehicle control (p<0.05). In contrast, cells cultured from subjects with ASD demonstrated an increased IL-1β response to LPS (p=0.033) when pretreated with 100 nM BDE-47 compared with vehicle control. Preincubation with 500 nM BDE-47 significantly increased the stimulated release of the inflammatory chemokine IL-8 (p<0.04) in cells cultured from subjects with ASD but not in cells from TD controls. These data suggest that in vitro exposure of PBMC to BDE-47 affects cell cytokine production in a pediatric population. Moreover, PBMC from the ASD subjects were differentially affected when compared with the TD controls suggesting a biological basis for altered sensitivity to BDE-47 in the ASD population.
ASD; autism; LPS; monocyte; innate immunity; BDE-47
Accumulating evidence indicates that immune dysfunction is associated with autism disorders in a significant subset of children. Previous reports have shown abnormal immunoglobulin (Ig) levels, including an increased presence of autoreactive antibodies in the circulation of individuals with autism. As IgG is the predominant antibody isotype in circulation, we expected that an altered immune response could result in an abnormal IgG subclass profile in children with autism. We examined circulating plasma levels of IgG1, IgG2, IgG3, and IgG4 in 241 children from the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study, a large epidemiologic case-control investigation, including 114 children who meet full criteria for autism disorder (AU), 96 typically developing control children (TD) from a randomly selected sample of the general population, and 31 children with developmental delays (DD). We report significantly increased levels of the IgG4 subclass in children with AU compared with TD control children (p=0.016) and compared with DD controls (p=0.041). These results may suggest an underlying immunological abnormality in AU subjects resulting in elevated IgG4 production. Further investigation is necessary to elucidate the relationship between immunological findings and behavioral impairments in autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of heterogeneous, behaviorally defined disorders characterized by disturbances in social interaction and communication, often with repetitive and stereotyped behavior. Previous studies have described the presence of antibodies to various neural proteins in autistic individuals as well as post-mortem evidence of neuropathology in the cerebellum. We examined plasma from children with ASD, as well as age-matched typically developing controls, for antibodies directed against human cerebellar protein extracts using western blot analysis. In addition, the presence of cerebellar specific antibodies was assessed by immunohistochemical staining of sections from Macaca fascicularis monkey cerebellum. Western blot analysis revealed that 13/63 (21%) of subjects with ASD possessed antibodies that demonstrated specific reactivity to a cerebellar protein with an apparent molecular weight of approximately 52kD compared with only 1/63 (2%) of the typically developing controls (p=0.0010). Intense immunoreactivity, to what was determined morphologically to be the Golgi cell of the cerebellum, was noted for 7/34 (21%) of subjects with ASD, compared with 0/23 of the typically developing controls. Furthermore, there was a strong association between the presence of antibodies reactive to the 52 kDa protein by western blot with positive immunohistochemical staining of cerebellar Golgi cells in the ASD group (r= 0.76; p=0.001) but not controls. These studies suggest that when compared with age-matched typically developing controls, children with ASD exhibit a differential antibody response to specific cells located in the cerebellum and this response may be associated with a protein of approximately 52 kDa.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); brain; immune; autoantibody; cerebellum; Golgi cell; immunohistochemistry
Gene expression in blood was correlated with mercury levels in blood of 2- to 5-year-old boys with autism (AU) compared to age-matched typically developing (TD) control boys. This was done to address the possibility that the two groups might metabolize toxicants, such as mercury, differently. RNA was isolated from blood and gene expression assessed on whole genome Affymetrix Human U133 expression microarrays. Mercury levels were measured using an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed and partial correlations between gene expression and mercury levels were calculated, after correcting for age and batch effects. To reduce false positives, only genes shared by the ANCOVA models were analyzed. Of the 26 genes that correlated with mercury levels in both AU and TD boys, 11 were significantly different between the groups (P(Diagnosis*Mercury) ≤ 0.05). The expression of a large number of genes (n = 316) correlated with mercury levels in TD but not in AU boys (P ≤ 0.05), the most represented biological functions being cell death and cell morphology. Expression of 189 genes correlated with mercury levels in AU but not in TD boys (P ≤ 0.05), the most represented biological functions being cell morphology, amino acid metabolism, and antigen presentation. These data and those in our companion study on correlation of gene expression and lead levels show that AU and TD children display different correlations between transcript levels and low levels of mercury and lead. These findings might suggest different genetic transcriptional programs associated with mercury in AU compared to TD children.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12640-009-9137-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Blood; Mercury; Heavy metals; Autism; Microarrays; Genes
The objective of this study was to examine the correlation between gene expression and lead (Pb) levels in blood in children with autism (AU, n = 37) compared to typically developing controls (TD, n = 15). We postulated that, though lead levels did not differ between the groups, AU children might metabolize lead differently compared to TD children. RNA was isolated from blood and processed on Affymetrix microarrays. Separate analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) corrected for age and gender were performed for TD, AU, and all subjects (AU + TD). To reduce false positives, only genes that overlapped these three ANCOVAs were considered. Thus, 48 probe sets correlated with lead levels in both AU and TD subjects and were significantly different between the groups (p(Diagnosis × log2 Pb) < 0.05). These genes were related mainly to immune and inflammatory processes, including MHC Class II family members and CD74. A large number (n = 791) of probe sets correlated (P ≤ 0.05) with lead levels in TD but not in AU subjects; and many probe sets (n = 162) correlated (P ≤ 0.05) with lead levels in AU but not in TD subjects. Only 30 probe sets correlated (P ≤ 0.05) with lead levels in a similar manner in the AU and TD groups. These data show that AU and TD children display different associations between transcript levels and low levels of lead. We postulate that this may relate to the underlying genetic differences between the two groups, though other explanations cannot be excluded.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12640-009-9126-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Blood; Lead; Heavy metals; Autism; Microarrays; Genes
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. There is evidence of both immune dysregulation and autoimmune phenomena in autism. We examined the regulatory cytokine transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFβ1) because of its role in controlling immune responses. Plasma levels of active TGFβ1 were evaluated in 75 children with ASD compared with 96 controls. Children with ASD had significantly lower plasma TGFβ1 levels compared with typically developing controls (p=0.0017) and compared with children with developmental disabilities other than ASD (p=0.0037) but not siblings, after adjusting for age and gender. In addition, there were significant correlations between psychological measures and TGFβ1 levels, such that lower TGFβ1 levels were associated with lower adaptive behaviors and worse behavioral symptoms. The data suggest that immune responses in autism may be inappropriately regulated due to reductions in TGFβ1. Such immune dysregulation may predispose to the development of possible autoimmune responses and/or adverse neuroimmune interactions during critical windows in development.
To assay if plasma antibody levels in children with autism or developmental delays (DD) differ from those with typical development as an indicator of immune function and to correlate antibody levels with severity of behavioral symptoms.
Plasma was collected from children with autistic disorder (AU; n=116), DD but not autism (n=32), autism spectrum disorder but not full autism (n=27), and age-matched typically developing (TD) controls (n=96). Samples were assayed for systemic levels of immunoglobulin (IgG, IgM, IgA, and IgE) by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Subjects with autism were evaluated using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised, and all subjects were scored on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) by the parents. Numerical scores for each of the ABC subscales as well as the total scores were then correlated with Ig levels.
Children with AU have a significantly reduced level of plasma IgG (5.39±0.29 mg/mL) compared to the TD (7.72±0.28 mg/mL; P<0.001) and DD children (8.23±0.49 mg/mL; P<0.001). Children with autism also had a reduced level of plasma IgM (0.670.06mg/mL) compared to TD (0.79±0.05 mg/mL; P<0.05). Ig levels were negatively correlated with ABC scores for all children (IgG: r=−0.334, P<0.0001; IgM: r=−0.167, P=0.0285).
Children with AU have significantly reduced levels of plasma IgG and IgM compared to both DD and TD controls, suggesting an underlying defect in immune function. This reduction in specific Ig levels correlates with behavioral severity, where those patients with the highest scores in the behavioral battery have the most reduced levels of IgG and IgM.
Autism; immunoglobulin; behavior; IgG
Autism is a profound disorder of neurodevelopment with poorly understood biological origins. A potential role for maternal autoantibodies in the etiology of some cases of autism has been proposed in previous studies To investigate this hypothesis, maternal plasma antibodies against human fetal and adult brain proteins were analyzed by western blot in 61 mothers of children with autistic disorder and 102 controls matched for maternal age and birth year (62 mothers of typically developing children (TD) and 40 mothers of children with non-ASD developmental delays (DD)). We observed reactivity to two protein bands at approximately 73kDa and 37kDa in plasma from 7 of 61 (11.5%) mothers of children with autism (AU) against fetal but not adult brain, which was not noted in either control group (TD; 0/62 p=0.0061 and DD; 0/40 p=0.0401). Further, the presence of reactivity to these two bands correlated with a diagnosis of behavioral regression in the child when compared to the TD (p=0.0019) and DD (0.0089) groups. Individual reactivity to the 37kDa band was observed significantly more often in the AU population compared with TD (p=0.0086) and DD (p=0.002) mothers, yielding a 5.69-fold odds ratio (95% confidence interval 2.09 - 15.51) associated with this band. The presence of these antibodies in the plasma of some mothers of children with autism, as well as the differential findings between mothers of children with early onset and regressive autism may suggest an association between the transfer of IgG autoantibodies during early neurodevelopment and the risk of developing of autism in some children.
Autism; Maternal Antibodies; Regression; Autoantibodies
Immune dysfunction has been associated with autism, yet whether maternal immune status during pregnancy plays a causal role remains to be clarified.
We conducted a population-based case-control study nested within the cohort of infants born July 2000-September 2001 to women who participated in the prenatal screening program in Orange County, California. Cases (AU; n = 84) were children receiving services for autism at the Regional Center of Orange County. Two control groups were included: children with mental retardation or developmental delay (MR; n = 49) receiving services at the same regional center; and children not receiving services for developmental disabilities, randomly sampled from the California birth certificate files (GP; n = 160). Maternal autoantibody reactivity to fetal brain protein was measured by Western blot in archived mid-pregnancy blood specimens drawn during routine prenatal screening. Presence of specific bands and band patterns were compared between the three study groups.
The pattern of maternal mid-gestation antibody reactivity to human fetal brain protein varied by study group and by autism onset type, although most differences did not reach statistical significance. Reactivity to a band at 39 kDa was more common among mothers of children with autism (7%) compared with mothers of MR (0%; p = .09) and GP control subjects (2%; p = .07), and simultaneous reactivity to bands at 39 kDa and 73 kDa was found only in mothers of children with early onset autism (n = 3).
Our findings indicate that further studies of prenatal immune markers might be a productive area for etiologic and biologic marker discovery for autism.
ASD; autism; autoimmune; biologic marker; neonatal; prenatal
Effects of air pollution on morbidity and mortality may be mediated by alterations in immune competence. In this study we examined short-term associations of air pollution exposures with lymphocyte immunophenotypes in cord blood among 1,397 deliveries in two districts of the Czech Republic. We measured fine particulate matter < 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) and 12 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in 24-hr samples collected by versatile air pollution samplers. Cord blood samples were analyzed using a FACSort flow cytometer to determine phenotypes of CD3+ T-lymphocytes and their subsets CD4+ and CD8+, CD19+ B-lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. The mothers were interviewed regarding sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, and medical records were abstracted for obstetric, labor and delivery characteristics. During the period 1994 to 1998, the mean daily ambient concentration of PM2.5 was 24.8 μg/m3 and that of PAHs was 63.5 ng/m3. In multiple linear regression models adjusted for temperature, season, and other covariates, average PAH or PM2.5 levels during the 14 days before birth were associated with decreases in T-lymphocyte phenotype fractions (i.e., CD3+ CD4+, and CD8+), and a clear increase in the B-lymphocyte (CD19+) fraction. For a 100-ng/m3 increase in PAHs, which represented approximately two standard deviations, the percentage decrease was −3.3% [95% confidence interval (CI), −5.6 to −1.0%] for CD3+, −3.1% (95% CI, −4.9 to −1.3%) for CD4+, and −1.0% (95% CI, −1.8 to −0.2%) for CD8+ cells. The corresponding increase in the CD19+ cell proportion was 1.7% (95% CI, 0.4 to 3.0%). Associations were similar but slightly weaker for PM2.5. Ambient air pollution may influence the relative distribution of lymphocyte immunophenotypes of the fetus.
air pollution; B-cell; cord blood; immune status; immunology; lymphocytes; natural killer cells; PAH; PM10; pregnancy; T-cell