The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched three major clinical studies on autism at its research program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. These studies are the first products of a new, integrated focus on autism generated in response to reported increases in autism prevalence and valid opportunities for progress. Initial studies will define the characteristics of different subtypes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and explore possible new treatments.
One study will define differences--both biological and behavioral--in autistic children with diverse developmental histories. Increasingly, scientists are considering the likelihood of "autisms," that is, multiple disorders that comprise autism. These studies seek to better define the subtypes within autism. Children with regressive autism appear to develop normal language and social skills but then lose these with the onset of autism before age 3. Non-regressive autism, the more common form of the disorder, begins early in life, possibly before birth, with evidence of subtle deficits throughout development. Children with these two forms of autism will be compared with those who have other developmental disorders, including various forms of developmental delay, as well as children with typical development. In addition, researchers will study a subset of the children in this study to investigate environmental factors that may trigger symptoms of autism.
In another study, NIMH researchers will examine the use of the antibiotic minocycline to measure its usefulness in treating regressive autism. Past research suggests that autism may be linked with changes in the immune response that cause inflammation in the brain. Minocycline has known anti-inflammatory effects and has been shown to be helpful in other brain disorders such as Huntington's disease.