Could Autism Be An Autoimmune Disorder? There May Soon Be a Test!

Autism AutoimmuneWhen a woman is pregnant, the baby is protected by the womb as well as the placental barrier. As an additional level of protection, immune proteins from the mother will cross over the placental barrier to shield the baby from foreign bacteria and infections.

Sometimes, however these immune proteins do their job a little too much and begin to not only attack bacteria and viruses, but also the  brain tissue in the unborn baby’s head, according to a study published in Translational Psychiatry in 2013. (1)

A second study also found that the immune system proteins in attacking the brain can cause some of the symptoms of autism; most commonly the inability to communicate as well as repetitive behaviors.

Researchers believe that they have identified a type of Autism that can account for over 20% of children on the spectrum. They’re calling it MAR, or “Maternal Antibody Related”. (2)

Right now, Pediatric Bioscience is working with researchers to possibly release a test that will be able to detect whether or not the mother has the antibodies. If she does, it would be almost certain that the child will be born with Autism. If she does not have the antibodies, the child could still have autism, but it would be for other reasons.

If this is found to be accurate, which is seems to be at this point, we could be one step closer to finding out more about the cause of autism.

A cause is one step closer to a cure.

Sources:
(1) (2) http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v3/n7/full/tp201347a.html

Could Epigenetics be the solution to Autism?

 

DNA and AutismDNA is like an instruction manual in creating all parts of our body. It sounds pretty simple, the body just follows these instructions and we grow and develop based on DNA, right? Only halfway right.

The DNA portion of the markup is unchangeable. It’s a firm plan. The DNA in our bodies are wrapped around Histones, a protein. Attached to the histone and DNA are other chemical tags called Epigenomes. While DNA itself isn’t able to be changed or modified, epigenomes are reactive based on external factors like diet, stress, and environmental factors. The epigenome adjusts genes based on what we are subjected to around us.(1)

It is widely believed that Autism Spectrum Disorders are genetic. However, there is also reason to believe that some of the factors of how the disorder affects someone can be traced to epigenomes, and how environmental elements affect them.  There are several chromosomes that have been traced to cases of Autism. (2)

Studies suggest that there is a connection between Autism / ASD and the chromosomes 15Q, 7Q, and X.

Duplications of chromosome 15Q (11-13) are commonly recurrent cytogenetic aberration associated with ASD. This occurs in 5% of patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The 15Q (11-13) chromosome is responsible for normal neurodevelopment.  The duplication of this chromosome is dependent on which parent the allele is derived from. Duplications in the maternal copy of this chromosome have been found to result in more cases of Autism. Overexpression of maternal genes is believed to be a cause of Autism. (2)

With chromosome 7, it has been found that changes in the number or structure of chromosome 7 (We normally have 2 copies of this chromosome), can causes delayed growth, mental disorders, and delayed speech. (3)

In the case of the x-chromosome, it’s important to note that there is a distinctive gender bias when it comes to Autism. There are 4 times as many males affected by Autism/ASD than there are females.

Based on the results of a study on females with Turner syndrome, a hypothesis involving epigenetic mechanisms was proposed to help describe the gender bias of ASD. Turner syndrome patients have only one X chromosome which can be either maternal or paternal in origin. When 80 females with monosomy X were tested for measures of social cognition, the patients with a paternally derived X chromosome performed better than those with a maternally derived X chromosome. Males have only one X chromosome, derived from their mother. If a gene on the paternal X chromosome confers improved social skills, males are deficient in the gene. This could explain why males are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD. (4)

 

Sources:
(1) http://hmg.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/suppl_2/R138.full
(2) Schroer R.J., Phelan M.C., Michaelis R.C., Crawford E.C., Skinner S.A., Cuccaro M., Simensen R.J., Bishop J.,  Skinner C.,  Fender D., et al. Autism and maternally derived aberrations of chromosome 15q. Am. J. Med. Genet. 1998;76:327-336.
(3) Schanen N. C. (2006). “Epigenetics of autism spectrum disorders”. Human Molecular Genetics 15: R138–R150.
(4) Skuse, D.H., James, R.S., Bishop, D.V., Coppin, B., Dalton, P., Aamodt-Leeper, G., Bacarese-Hamilton, M., Creswell, C., McGurk, R. and Jacobs, P.A. (1997). “Evidence from Turner’s syndrome of an imprinted X-linked locus affecting cognitive function”. Nature 387 (6634): 705–708.

New Hope in Treatment of Autism in the Form of Stem Cells

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If you or your loved one suffer from any level of autism, you should be excited to know scientist are making great strides in the direction of treating this disease. By using human stem cells to grow the very first mini humans brains in a laboratory, scientists say this could very well lead to an entirely new level in the understanding of brain development and what goes wrong when a disorder such as autism occurs.

For the first time ever, scientists are now able to replicate the development of brain tissue in a full three dimensions. Under this study, scientists have already been able to produce a completely biological model of how a rare brain condition called microcephaly develops. This gives them a real-to-life human brain with this disorder and allows them to work directly with it to search for treatments and cures. They plan to use these very same techniques to create a mini human brain with the autism disorder so they may have a hands-on chance at finding ways to help those affected by autism.

While the development and study of mini human brains still has a very long way to go before it becomes a regular means of treating and curing diseases, it is a very positive and exciting step in working towards finding new ways to stop disease. Those who suffer from autism have a new reason for hope.

Ultrasound Exposure and Autism

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One possible source of autistic disorders might be the ultrasounds that expectant mothers undergo during their pregnancy. Previous generations would do one or two ultrasounds, if that many. The number now is much greater. Improving technology, including the ability to see the ultrasound in real time and to adjust the sonic rays so as to create a more three dimensional view, and the dropping prices that come with common adoption of technology, mean that mothers are sometimes getting twenty or thirty ultrasounds over the course of their pregnancy. Although this does much to set their minds at ease, there is serious concern that these ultrasounds are affecting fetal brain development.

Ultrasound sonograms use concentrated, high frequency sound waves to create pictures of the fetus in the womb. These sonic vibrations, delivered at low volume but at very high frequency, pass through the entire body of the fetus, including the brain. It is not known precisely what changes these sound waves may cause, but a 2006 study on laboratory mice proved that ultrasonic exposure changes the way that neurons distribute themselves in developing brains. Multiple exposures showed progressively greater migrations of neurons. Although the precise ramifications of these changes are not known, it is reasonable to surmise that this may have a deleterious effect on the fetal neural system.

No correlation between ultrasound exposure and any other disorder has yet been proven, but scientists are working hard to gather evidence and test this hypothesis. If there is a connection between ultrasound and autism, then there will certainly be major changes made to prenatal treatment across the world.

Environmental Factors and Autism – Part 3

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We know based on research that growth and development can be severely impaired by chemicals, pesticides, metals and other toxic substances. Is there anything that we can do now?

  • We can support green efforts to decrease environmental pollutants.
  • We can prepare for pregnancy by detoxifying 3-6 months before trying to conceive.
  • We can address nutrient deficiencies and correct them.
  • We can eat a diet rich in good quality protein, green leafy vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
  • We can choose supplements like omega-3 and antioxidants to protect our cells.
  • We can breastfeed our babies as it has been shown to decrease rates of ASD and ADHD.

Children with autism can benefit from increasing nutrient and antioxidant status.  Correcting nutrient deficiencies, taking essential fatty acids and increasing antioxidant levels show positive improvements in language, social and cognitive development.

Environmental Factors and Autism – Part 2

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From the time of conception, babies are de-methylated and as they grow and develop, they go through a process called methylation.  Both methylation and detoxification form an important balance that supports growth and development.  They work hand-in-hand so that as one slows down, so does that other.  Children with autism have shown to have impairments in these cycles, which may begin to explain why children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are quite susceptible to environmental toxicity.

A 2009 study completed by researchers at the University of Texas, found startling evidence that the environment plays a large role in autism.  The study was designed to determine if living close to sources of mercury pollution in 1998 were related to autism prevalence in 2002. They found that for every 1000 pounds of industrial release, there were a 2.6% increase in autism rates and a 3.7% increase associated with power plant emissions. Overall, for every 10 miles away you got from industrial or power plant sources, there was a decrease in autism rates.

The same researchers revealed an association between environmentally-released mercury and autism rates also in Texas.  For each 1,000 lb of environmentally released mercury, there was a 61% increase in ASD.

Toxins play a large role in the health of our bodies. Lead levels have been linked to ASD, ADHD and learning disabilities.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study that found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals in 2004.  Further tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in this group of children. The umbilical cord blood identified pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage. It is clear that environmental toxicity is impacting all children and adults.

 

Environmental Factors and Autism – Part 1

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As a health care practitioner who specializes in autism, the relationship between autism spectrum disorder, genetics and environmental toxicity is first in my mind always and this has also been the subject of research for many years.  What we do know now is that one of the key reasons for the dramatic rise in autism rates in the last 15-20 years can be attributed to environmental toxicity.

Children with autism are more susceptible to oxidative damage and environmental toxins than other children. Autism research has shown that oxidative stress levels are high and antioxidant levels are low.  Antioxidants protect our bodies from harmful chemicals and substances circulating in food, air, water and soil.  They are essential for normal development.  Environmental toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides and other harmful substances lower a person’s antioxidant status.

In each of our bodies there are 7 detoxification pathways that are supported by antioxidants.  There is a relationship between normal development and detoxification that is necessary to be in balance for children to grow, thrive, and learn new skills.

Research has shown that children with autism have depleted stores of glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants that support detoxification of toxic substances. Researchers have identified that children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) had up to 80% of this important compound depleted.  The brain relies 100% on glutathione to support development, therefore as glutathione levels decrease, so does the “fuel” needed for development.

Promising New Environmental Links Surface as Science Continues to Search for Autism’s Roots

200114153-001Many disorders of the mind and the majority of bodily illnesses are now considered to be “caused” by some combination of a genetic predisposition or marker and some type of environmental “trigger”. A more specific version of the classic “Nature vs. Nurture” argument. Even diseases and disorders that go beyond manageable to the realm of being progressively treatable or even in some cases curable often have pathologies or beginnings that are not completely understood or not verifiable in the strict scientific sense.

One previously hotly debated environmental factor thought by some to be related to autism and specifically the rise in its prevalency is immunizations. The decade from 1993-2003 saw an 800% increase in the Autism rate. In the 1980’s children by the age of 6 were given a maximum of 10 vaccines and the incidence of Autism was roughly 1 in every 10,000 children. Based on data from 2006, the current official rate of children with Autism is 1 in 110 and the CDC’s official recommendation totals 36 vaccines by age 6.However during this same period of time two indisputable factors contributed to the apparent dramatic increase. Both parents and doctors are now much more likely to notice and diagnose Autism and the diagnostic criteria have also been expanded to a more inclusive spectrum.

Regardless of whether Autism is on the rise, the most recent study released by esteemed Harvard University points to the environmental factor of the mother’s nutrition (specifically Iron)just before and early on in pregnancy as a link to lowering risk of the disease occurring. Another new report finds specific types of air pollution to cause an increased risk of having an Autistic child. These latest study findings are very exciting because of course if environmental factors are found to be a direct cause for Autism, then there are ways intervene or change the environment and prevent this disease from developing and save countless future children form a difficult or unfullfilled life.

Three Genetic Aberrations Linked To Development Of Autism

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The mutations of three genes have been linked to autism in a new series of studies published in the journal Nature. The genetic aberrations linked to autism spectrum disorders were announced by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The mutated genes were identified as CHD8, SNC2A, and KATNAL2.

The genetic aberrations were discovered using new state of the art technology called exome sequencing. This technology analyzes all protein coding regions of the genome, allowing researchers to characterize and sequence genes. The study used data from over 500 families to sequence the protein enriched areas of the genome, searching for aberrations that appeared in multiple affected children, but not in children without autism.

Using large-scale next-generation sequencing, the Autism Sequencing Consortium, a worldwide group of autism genetics researchers, is working to classify other genetic causes of autism. Researchers believe that more genetic mutations on other genes will also be linked to the development of autism eventually. There are a large number of genes involved in the development of autism and researchers believed that they have discovered around 10% of them so far. Researchers are studying children affected by autism and their parents to uncover the genes that result in the development of autism spectrum disorders.

Researchers are still unsure of the exact cause of autism, but it is believed that autism is influenced by environmental conditions and genetic aberrations. The results of the new series of studies will provide future researchers with a good direction for future studies and valuable insight into the nature of the condition. Researchers say that with further research, they will be able to develop preventative measures and novel treatments for autism.