New research using a mouse model of autism suggests abnormalities in the immune system may be linked to pervasive developmental disorders.
University of South Florida investigators found that elevated levels of an amyloid precursor protein (APP) are tied to immune system abnormalities that mimic those seen with autism spectrum disorders.
Researchers believe elevated levels of an APP fragment circulating in the blood could explain the aberrations in immune cell populations and function — both observed in some autism patients.
Investigators believe the protein fragment might serve as both a biomarker for autism and a new research target for understanding the physiology of the disorder.
“Autism affects one in 110 children in the United States today,” said research team leader Jun Tan, M.D., Ph.D. “While there are reports of abnormal T-cell numbers and function in some persons affected with autism, no specific cause has been identified. The disorder is diagnosed by behavioral observation and to date no associated biomarkers have been identified.”
“Not only are there no associated biomarkers, but the prognosis for autism is poor and the costs associated with care are climbing,” said Francisco Fernandez, M.D. “The work of Dr. Tan and his team is a start that may lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments.”
The amyloid precursor protein is typically the focus of research related to Alzheimer’s disease.
However, recent scientific reports have identified elevated levels of the particular protein fragment, called, sAPP-α, in the blood of autistic children.
The fragment is a well-known growth factor for nerves, and studies imply that it plays a role in T-cell immune responses as well.
Researchers believe elevated sAPP-α harm the immune system and may be a contributory factor for some forms of autism.
The study is published online in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Source: University of South Florida