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The Cause Of Autism

Researchers are making progress in understanding what causes autism. From BBC NEWS:

Scientists have produced compelling evidence that autism may in some cases be linked to inflammation of the brain.

They found certain immune system components that promote inflammation are consistently activated in people with autism.

Autistic children have difficulties in social interaction, may show repetitive behaviours and may have unusual attachments to objects or routines.

The Johns Hopkins University research is published in Annals of Neurology. [More]

Medical News Today (on the same topic) has more information the different types of autism on the autism spectrum.


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Comments (12)

I apologize Kevin if you ha... (Below threshold)

I apologize Kevin if you have addressed this in the past, but do you have a personal interest in this? Some friends of mine have 2 children, both autistic. They spent some time at the U. of Washington doing some tests. Mother is epileptic and they were trying to determine if the phenobarbital she was on had anything to do with it.

This may be related to the ... (Below threshold)

This may be related to the "hygiene hypothesis" of asthma and other inflammation-related diseases.

I read about the hygiene hypothesis about five years ago in a huge front-page article done in the Chicago Trib. Essentially, the hygiene hypothesis says that when we are born, our immune response is weak and "untrained" (if it weren't, we would reject our mother causing both fetus and mother to die) and if infants are not exposed to enough relatively harmless germs early in life, the immune response never develops properly and the allergic response becomes hypersensitive, causing them to react allergically to things they should not. (If nothing else, this would explain why babies instinctively stick everything in their mouth, which at first glance would not seem to have much survival value).

The evidence was pretty convincing: they found that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, asthma rates skyrocketed in E Germany as toddlers were taken out of unhygienic mass daycare centers -- despite the fact air pollution fell dramatically.

I would also add that if th... (Below threshold)

I would also add that if this pans out anti-inflanmmatory supplements such as curcumin might be helpful in treating autism. I have found curcumin extract (also called tumeric) helpful myself for joint inflammation related to weightlifting.

Sorry for the mass comment ... (Below threshold)

Sorry for the mass comment spam, but I realized my first post might make more sense with some clarification:

It is now believed asthma is caused by the body reacting with an allergic response to some of its own proteins (at least one of which has been identified) in the lungs. It may turn out the inflammation in the brain that causes autism has a similar mechanism.

- My learning unit was fina... (Below threshold)

- My learning unit was finally diagnosed as mildly asperger after years of mis-diagnosis... Since I'm sort of anti-medicines myself, and after much advice from several quarters, I decided early on to forego using drugs such as Ridalin. I chose instead to deal with it on a human/parenting level, concerned that meds might interfere with his schooling; He's a straight A student. Judging from some recent articles, that may have been a prudent choice....Maybe our luck will hold and he will emulate Spielburg, (except like his daddy he's already staunchly conservative)....

Just a short note to let yo... (Below threshold)

Just a short note to let you know how much I've appreciated the great work you do, and to compliment your terrific blog.

Your pal
Gunny

Thanks for the article!... (Below threshold)
notthisgirl:

Thanks for the article!

Having spent better part of a year trying to figure out what was up with my 3 year old son (now 4), we had him evaluated by a noted neurologist from Columbia U. We came away with no DX ... but he does have most - if not all - of the more secondary symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome. If you do not have one of the "test" attributes, you are typically not given a formal diagnosis. Both sides of Grandparents had Mensa level IQ's - and his Dad and I are borderline genius level.

What I find most disturbing, are doctors who are diagnosing children with ASD's who really are not autistic, just so the parents can take advantage of free theraputic services from the public system.

I'm sure that there are doctors out there who would have diagnosed my son as autistic last year. As he has matured, he is quite different now than he was even just several months ago.

For those with younger children (under 6), especially boys, it is a fine line to walk. Developmental norms can range up to 18 months. Our family doctor has always suggested to keep a close eye on things - but not to over analyze. A tough thing to do.

As a researcher who studies... (Below threshold)

As a researcher who studies the effects of stress on aspects of development in the CNS, I have to say that this is interesting and promising, but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We know that inflammation is associated with a number of CNS abnormalities, including schizophrenia and AD. Interestingly, there are a number of functional links between schizophrenia and autism, and schizophrenia is thought to be associated with prenatal and perinatal stress, including exposure to infection, which stimulates the inflammatory response.

On the other hand, this research is new and should be viewed in the context of other work in the field. Remember the debacle over ONE PAPER that posited a link between childhood vaccines and autism. Recent work demonstrates that the previous conclusions about thimerosal are almost certainly coincidental.

As for a link with phenobarbital, there is a pretty big literature out there describing behavioral, and in some cases social, deficits in rodents that were exposed to barbiturates (like PB) or benzodiazepines (like valium) in utero; although I am unaware of any studies related to autism phenotypes.

NTG- good for you that your Dr. is cautious. He's probably told you that autistic kids are frequently high IQ, but that their communication and social problems get in the way of expressing it. Good luck with your little guy :)

So much for the liberal the... (Below threshold)

So much for the liberal theory that pollution of our environment causes autism.

Developmental norms can ... (Below threshold)
julie:

Developmental norms can range up to 18 months.

Ha! I also heard this and that it may be due to personality. For example, your kid's not walking because he damn well doesn't feel like it!

The heading on this post is... (Below threshold)
Lastango:

The heading on this post is "Researchers are making progress in understanding what causes autism", but it's not clear the research cited in the article indicates that inflammation (if there is any) or immune system protein activation is causal.

If these factors aren't causal, then what is their role?

"Researcher Dr Carlos Pardo-Villamizar said: 'These findings reinforce the theory that immune activation in the brain is involved in autism, although it is not yet clear whether it is destructive or beneficial, or both, to the developing brain.'"

He might have added "or neither" to this pair of possibilities. Certainly, though the research suggests at least a possibility that "treating... inflammation might reduce the symptoms of autism."


Sorry - I left a key comma ... (Below threshold)
Lastango:

Sorry - I left a key comma out of that last phrase. What I meant was -

Certainly, though, the research suggests at least a possibility that "treating... inflammation might reduce the symptoms of autism."




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