Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Autism May Be Caused By An Immune System Response To A Virus

Date:
November 3, 1998
Source:
University Of Michigan
Summary:
Antibodies found in the blood of autistic children suggest that at least some cases of autism are caused by a misguided immune response, triggered by exposure to a virus, researchers in the University of Michigan's College of Pharmacy report.

ANN ARBOR---Antibodies found in the blood of autistic children suggest that at least some cases of autism are caused by a misguided immune response, triggered by exposure to a virus, researchers in the University of Michigan's College of Pharmacy report.

The researchers found that autistic children who had been exposed to certain viruses in the past showed unusually high levels of antibodies to brain proteins, suggesting an autoimmune response. Their findings appear in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects brain function, interfering with reasoning ability, imagination, communication, and social interaction. Children with autism start talking later than other children, and when they do speak, their communication skills are extremely limited. They often avoid looking at other people and don't learn to read others' faces for signs of emotion or other cues. These children typically are unable to play creatively, and some engage in repetitive, sometimes self-destructive, behavior, such as rocking, hand flapping or head-banging.

No single cause of autism has been found, and researchers believe that genes and environmental factors (such as viruses or chemicals) both may contribute. The kinds of brain abnormalities found in people with autism suggest that the disorder arises when something disrupts normal brain development.

One possibility is that early exposure to a virus prods the body into mounting an immune response that somehow goes awry. In addition to producing antibodies against the virus, the body makes antibodies against itself, resulting in damage to tissues and organs. This "autoimmune" response is what happens in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, and some researchers think a similar response may account for the brain abnormalities found in people with autism.

It was this possibility that U-M researchers Vijendra Singh and Victor Yang and undergraduate student assistant Sheren Lin investigated. In their study of 48 autistic children and 34 normal children and adults, the researchers measured levels of antibodies to two viruses---measles virus and human herpesvirus-6---in the subjects' blood. These antibodies were chosen because they are often used in research on known autoimmune diseases, says Singh, the principal investigator of the project and an assistant research scientist in the College of Pharmacy.

The researchers also measured levels of two brain autoantibodies (antibodies to brain tissue). One, anti-MBP, is an antibody to myelin basic protein, a protein found in the protective sheaths around nerve fibers in the brain. The other, anti-NAFP, is an antibody to neuron-axon filament protein, a protein that makes up the nerve fibers themselves.

Virus antibody levels were essentially the same in autistic and non-autistic subjects, as the researchers expected. But the majority of autistic children who had virus antibodies also had brain autoantibodies. The higher the level of virus antibodies, the more likely an autistic child was to have brain autoantibodies. None of the non-autistic subjects had brain autoantibodies.

The strongest link found in the autistic children was between measles virus antibodies and anti-MBP, suggesting that exposure to the measles virus may trigger an autoimmune response that interferes with the development of myelin, says Singh. If myelin in the brain doesn't develop properly, nerve fibers won't work as they should. This could be one way that the brain abnormalities associated with autism arise.

The question of how exposure to measles virus occurs raises a controversial issue. Parents of children with autism often report that the children started showing signs of the disorder shortly after being immunized with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine, but no scientific studies have shown a link between vaccines and autism. In the U-M study, almost all the subjects had had MMR immunizations, and none had ever had a case of measles. It is possible, however, that some might have been infected with measles virus but never developed symptoms of measles, says Singh.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Michigan. "Autism May Be Caused By An Immune System Response To A Virus." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981031181106.htm>.
University Of Michigan. (1998, November 3). Autism May Be Caused By An Immune System Response To A Virus. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981031181106.htm
University Of Michigan. "Autism May Be Caused By An Immune System Response To A Virus." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981031181106.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A study published in the journal "Neurology" interviewed more than 19,000 people and found 15 percent suffer from being "sleep drunk." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Painkiller Overdose Deaths?

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A new study found fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But experts disagree on the results. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

Heart Group: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

AP (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Heart Association's first policy statement on electronic cigarettes backs them as a last resort to help smokers quit and calls for more regulation to keep them away from youth. (Aug. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Doctors Push For Later Start Times As School Year Kicks Off

Newsy (Aug. 25, 2014) The American Academy of Pediatrics is the latest group pushing for middle schools and high schools to start later, for the sake of their kids. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins