Children with autism have gastrointestinal and immune system deregulation, research finds

Researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute have found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have reduced immune system regulation, as well as shifts in their gut microbiota. The immune deregulation appears to facilitate increased inflammation and may be linked to the gastrointestinal issues so often experienced by children with ASD. The research was published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

"Some children with ASD have this decrease in regulatory cytokines, which leaves them more prone to inflammation," said Destanie Rose, a graduate student in the laboratory of Paul Ashwood and first author on the paper. "This increased inflammation may manifest as GI symptoms, allergies, asthma or some other form."

While previous studies and clinical experience have shown that many children with ASD have gut issues, the causes have been mysterious. To better illuminate the problem, Ashwood, senior author and professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and colleagues studied 103 children, between 3 and 12, separated into four groups: children with ASD with and without GI symptoms, and typically developing children with and without GI symptoms.

The researchers analyzed blood and stool samples to assess both the immune response and microbial makeup. The children with ASD and GI issues showed a number of distinctions. They had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-5, IL-15 and IL-17, compared to the children with ASD without GI symptoms.

The ASD/GI children also had lower levels of the protein TGFβ1, which is responsible for regulating the immune response. In addition, the group had higher levels of the protein zonulin, which regulates cell junctions in the GI tract, influencing gut permeability.

The study also found distinction in the microbiome between children with ASD and GI symptoms and typically developing children with GI problems. These findings illuminate the physiology and represent a first step toward delineating cause and effect.

"This work opens up interesting new avenues to determine how the microbiome may be driving the mucosal immune response in ASD or whether immune activation drives the microbiome changes" Ashwood said. "At present we don't know."

Another question that will need to be answered is the relationship between the children's gastrointestinal symptoms and their behaviors.

"Children with ASD with increased inflammation are often those who exhibit the most severe behaviors," Ashwood said. "This immune activation is not helping these children. It might not be causing autism – we don't know that yet – but it's certainly making things worse."

The findings on TGFβ1 may be the most intriguing. The protein was deregulated in both ASD groups, suggesting that the children who don't experience GI symptoms may be suffering from other inflammatory conditions.

"It's significant that the regulatory aspect of the immune system is decreased, which puts them at risk for inflammation," said Rose. "Many studies point to different types of inflammation, and I think this one kind of summarizes why all those other findings can be true at the same time."

In addition, TGFβ1 plays a role in neurodevelopment and may constitute a potential link between immune deregulation and neurological symptoms. The authors caution that much more work must be done to tease out these relationships.

Still the study could provide clues for the development of potential treatments to mitigate GI and other inflammatory symptoms associated with ASD.

"It's a step toward understanding co-morbidities that are present in at least half of children with ASD, and working out which of these children may respond well to certain types of therapies," said Ashwood. "Although it's still early, this work suggests we need to find ways to ease inflammation to help these children."



  1. Donna Versace Donna Versace United States says:

    And you are just now bringing this to light?  How ironic because there was a very knowledgeable doctor in the UK by the name of Andrew Wakefield who brought this very thing up.  Only the powers that be did not want to hear what he had to say because they wanted to silence him for what he put in his published paper which by the way was also signed off by other medical doctors who were not punished I might add.  They stripped Dr. Wakefield's medical license and have been dragging his name through the mud for almost 2 decades even though he never once made claims of what they falsely accused him of doing.

  2. joe harris joe harris United States says:

    Wake-forest University found out of 82 children with Autism, 70 were found to test positive for VACCINE STRAIN MEASLES IN THEIR GUTS, AND CEREBRAL SPINAL.   The lead author researcher said "not one was of the wild strain"   Inflammation it is now being found in the children that's suffering with vaccine strain measles in their Guts?  
    This Nation's mainstream medicine and Media is so corrupt & cruel and STUPID beyond belief! Their insatiable appetite for GREED, is destroying the children of this Nation.

  3. Vicente Cifuentes Vicente Cifuentes Netherlands says:

    All that immune system dysfunction in children with autism. Fortunately, due to magical thinking, we know that vaccines never affect the immune system...but wait a second...they are SUPPOSED to affect the immune system. Cognitive dissonance strikes yet again.

  4. joe harris joe harris United States says:

    Fact is, that the Measles virus separates & embeds into the Gut and cerebral spinal of our children. Dr. Wakefield, trapped Dr. Stratton of the vaccine commission into admitting she if it were her child would be concerned. If they found Vaccine strain measles in their Guts an cerebral spinal. I have the audio, and when you listen to it.  You have no doubt in your mind who cares about the children. And it is not! the vaccine commission's Dr Stratton. She makes it clear, if it were her kids she would be concerned. Anybody else, not so much. She just said "we just don't think that it (the measles embedded into the child's Gut)
    can cause Autism"

  5. Bill Jenkins Bill Jenkins United States says:

    This would seem to add weight to the emerging hypothesis that autism may be, in fact, a neurocristopathy, i.e. a developmental problem with the highly complex neural crest cell migration patterns in the very early stages of embryonic growth, right after the formation of the spinal cord.  This could be as simple as a random genetic expression (de novo mutations have been observed in studies and may be a response to parental exposure to environmental factors), perhaps there are epigenetic factors at work, or there may be a more proximate cause related to the molecular influences present during the migration period.  The neural crest cells lay the foundation of the autonomic and peripheral nervous systems, including the gut/enteric system (noted here), adrenal and endocrine system, facial morphology, pigment cells, heart, peripheral sensory systems, and brain (including the limbic components of the threat response system), all major players in ASD dysregulation.  The wide-spread systemic effects of ASD symptomology are simply too deeply embedded in the individual's overall makeup to be retroactively induced by post-natal influences, i.e. vaccines.  There is something deeper going on and I'm betting it's in the neural crest cell migration.

  6. Stephanie Artist Hass Stephanie Artist Hass United States says:

    There is a rapidly emerging allergic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract known as eosinophilic gasterointestinal disorder (EGID). It can only be diagnosed via biopsy. Perhaps the diagnosis is widely overlooked in autistic patients.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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