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Blood markers associated with autism and mental retardation

A new study shows that elevated concentrations of proteins present at birth in the blood may be associated with the development of autism and mental retardation later in childhood. The identification of a biological marker early in life and before the onset of symptoms could lead to earlier and more definitive diagnoses, better clinical definitions, and the discovery of interventional therapies for the disorders. Investigators at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the March of Dimes/California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, and the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, collaborated on the study, which will appear in the May 2001 issue of the Annals of Neurology.

The investigators examined and compared archived neonatal blood samples from children, born in four northern California counties from 1983 to 1985, who later developed autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or developed normally. The investigators measured concentrations of several neural growth factors and found that the growth factors were significantly elevated in the neonatal blood of children who later developed autism or mental retardation, but not in the blood from children who developed cerebral palsy or blood from the normal controls.

Finding that major regulators of brain development were different in children with autism from normal controls in the first days of life opens an exciting new avenue of research, says Karin B. Nelson, M.D., Senior Investigator in the Neuroepidemiology Branch of the NINDS. We think this work will be a step to better understanding the biologic basis of autism and hope it will lead to better ways to treat and perhaps prevent autism.

We have these promising new results because the California Department of Health Services had the foresight many years ago to save specimens from the newborn screening program, added study co-author, Judith K. Grether, Ph.D., of the California Department of Health S
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Contact: Marcia Vital or Paul Girolami
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
24-Apr-2001


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