Thursday, May 19, 2011

Study Watch : In Search of Cellular Immunophenotypes in the Blood of Children with Autism

I ran across this study the other day and found it to be interesting.  It is open access so the full text of the study is freely available.  If you are interested in the possible relation between the immune system and autism, I suggest that you go read at least the discussion section of the paper, it will be worth your time.

The abstract for the study follows -

In search of cellular immunophenotypes in the blood of children with autism.
Ashwood P, Corbett BA, Kantor A, Schulman H, Van de Water J, Amaral DG.
Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America

Background: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social behavior, communication difficulties and the occurrence of repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. There has been substantial evidence for dysregulation of the immune system in autism.

Methods: We evaluated differences in the number and phenotype of circulating blood cells in young children with autism (n = 70) compared with age-matched controls (n = 35). Children with a confirmed diagnosis of autism (4-6 years of age) were further subdivided into low (IQ<68, n = 35) or high functioning (IQ≥68, n = 35) groups. Age- and gender-matched typically developing children constituted the control group. Six hundred and forty four primary and secondary variables, including cell counts and the abundance of cell surface antigens, were assessed using microvolume laser scanning cytometry.

Results: There were multiple differences in immune cell populations between the autism and control groups. The absolute number of B cells per volume of blood was over 20% higher for children with autism and the absolute number of NK cells was about 40% higher. Neither of these variables showed significant difference between the low and high functioning autism groups. While the absolute number of T cells was not different across groups, a number of cellular activation markers, including HLA-DR and CD26 on T cells, and CD38 on B cells, were significantly higher in the autism group compared to controls.

Conclusions: These results support previous findings that immune dysfunction may occur in some children with autism. Further evaluation of the nature of the dysfunction and how it may play a role in the etiology of autism or in facets of autism neuropathology and/or behavior are needed.

PMID: 21573236


  1. That's interesting. Similar types of cells are also found in inflammatory bowel diseases.

  2. Hi MJ -

    This was a great paper. Very, very cautiously worded, but hits the right spots regarding the need to identify phenotypes via immune biomarker.

    Longitudinal studies of cytokine marker levels are currently underway by the same group, which wil to some extend, address the concerns over this being a single point in time measurement.

    Alongside this paper in PLOS this month was a similar one about nuclear kappa factor b, an immune modulator, being increased in the autism cohort.

    - pD

  3. pD, that is another good one.