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Proteins May Spot Autism, Researchers Say


Active Member
Sep 10, 2004
Autistic children have abnormalities in their immune systems and unusual constellations of proteins in their blood that may be an indicator of the disorder, UC Davis researchers said Thursday.

The findings "suggest the possibility for future diagnostic tests for autism at birth" and may mean that "we can get children into effective treatment much earlier than is now possible," said Helen Tager-Flusberg of the Boston University School of Medicine, who chaired the Fourth International Meeting for Autism Research in Boston, where the results were presented.

The findings suggest that researchers are beginning to tease out the biological and developmental causes of the disabling disorder, which is thought to affect as many as 1 in every 166 U.S. children.

Autism has a broad spectrum of symptoms, but the disorder is marked by poor language skills, an inability to handle social relations and a lack of connection to the world.

Two groups of researchers from the MIND Institute at UC Davis reported that autistic children had a dysfunctional immune system, giving them an abnormal response to pathogens and other agents in the environment.

David G. Amaral and his colleagues collected blood samples from 70 children — ages 4 to 6 — with autism and from 35 children without it. The samples were studied for concentrations of immune cells, proteins and metabolites from protein processing.

"There were very striking differences at all three levels," Amaral said. Children with autism had 20% more of the white blood cells called B cells and 40% more of the variety called natural killer cells.

Of 4,000 proteins examined, 500 occurred at different levels in the two groups. "None of the proteins absolutely diagnose autism," he said, but the group was confident that it could identify a panel of perhaps 100 that would be indicative of the disease with a high level of confidence.