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Elevated Plasma Cytokines in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, M.P.H., Ph.D., and Isaac Pessah, Ph.D.
NIEHS Grants P01ES011269 and R01ES015359

New research findings report an altered plasma cytokine profile in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) compared to typically developing children. Elevated cytokine levels were directly correlated with impaired communication skills and aberrant behavior and demonstrate that immune alterations in ASD are associated with the severity of the condition.

ASDs are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors. These disorders have been on the rise for the past 25 years but no definitive cause has been found. Cytokines are small cell-signaling proteins that are secreted by glial cells of the nervous system and numerous cells making up the immune system that modulate immune responses.

The authors report a significant shift in cytokine profiles among children with ASD which suggests that ongoing inflammatory responses may be linked to behavioral disturbances. These findings need to be confirmed in larger studies, but they do suggest that the characterization of immunological markers may have important implications for diagnosis and therapeutic interventions to treat core symptoms and behavioral impairments associated with ASD.

Citation: Ashwood P, Krakowiak P, Hertz-Picciotto I, Hansen R, Pessah I, Van de Water J. Elevated plasma cytokines in autism spectrum disorders provide evidence of immune dysfunction and are associated with impaired behavioral outcome. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jan;25(1):40-5.

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