Did you know that IMMUNOe Health Centers participates in clinical research? In honor of World Autism Day, we wanted to share with you why IMMUNOe is currently participating in autism research. As our understanding of the immune system broadens and expands, scientists are increasingly looking into connections between immunology and neurological disorders and illnesses. Because IMMUNOe is committed to thinking outside the box when providing patient care, being at the forefront of innovation is very important to us.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. The disorder is characterized by deficits in communication and social skills, sensory sensitivity, and repetitive behaviors. First defined in 1943 by physician Leo Kanner, autism has challenged the scientific community to discover the disorder’s genetic basis. More recently, however, researchers have taken an interest in environmental factors, including immunological mechanisms that may contribute to the development of autism and its symptoms. This connection is of interest to researchers because other neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have also been linked to anomalies in immune function.
The brain and the immune system communicate through signaling pathways. A signaling molecule called a cytokine is involved in stimulating the body’s inflammatory immune response. If this is dysregulated, it could affect pathways that regulate the levels of hormones like cortisol in our bodies, causing a stress response. This cascade of consequences is implicated in several stress-related diseases.
Recent studies have looked at how maternal immune dysregulation could affect a child during pregnancy and the initial stages of life. Correlations have been found between a mother’s immune response to infection during pregnancy and incidence of autism, specifically related to the disruption of normal cytokine levels. In addition, maternal immune dysregulation could cause an increase in volatile chemicals called free radicals, affecting the growth and “wiring” of neurons in the brain.
In kids with ASD, scientists have identified several anomalies in immune system cells and proteins and how they behave in the body. Antibodies are proteins that fight infection and foreign substances in the body; however, in some kids with ASD, scientists have found antibodies that target and attack brain cells. A 2010 study found that children with ASD often have decreased levels of regulatory T cells, which are involved in facilitating the body’s inflammatory response. This response is important because it provides protection to the body when it is experiences infection, injury, pain and stress. T cells also help prevent autoimmunity, which is when the immune system attacks healthy, normal tissue in the body.
There are many more examples of findings linking immune system anomalies with ASD. However, while many patterns have been identified and causes proposed, there is much more work to be done to provide a complete and accurate depiction of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. IMMUNOe Research Centers is supporting that effort by participating in research studies for new medications and therapies for autism, not only to help our own patients, but also to contribute to the overall understanding of ASD to help children around the world.
by Patty Arenson, Clinical Research Coordinator at IMMUNOe Research Centers
For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder, please visit https://www.autismspeaks.org/.
Click here for more information about the current Autism Spectrum Disorder study at IMMUNOe Research Centers in Centennial, Colorado.