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Brain inflammation found in autism

onents inside the relatively sealed environment of the nervous system.

Led by first author Diana L. Vargas, MD, a post-doctoral fellow working in Pardo's laboratory, the researchers examined brain tissue from 11 people with autism, aged 5 to 44 years, who had died of accidents or injuries.

Compared with normal control brains, the brains of the people with autism featured immune system activation and inflammation in the brain.

"This ongoing inflammatory process was present in different areas of the brain and produced by cells known as microglia and astroglia," said Pardo.

When the researchers measured brain levels of immune system proteins called cytokines and chemokines, they found abnormal patterns consistent with inflammation.

"The pattern of cellular and protein findings indicate that they are part of the 'innate' immune system in the brain, and do not appear to be caused by immune abnormalities from outside the brain," said Pardo.

The findings in the brain tissue were corroborated by studies of cerebrospinal fluid obtained from six children with autism (ages 5 to 12 years), in which cytokines that promote inflammation were found to be elevated.

It is conceivable that signs of inflammation in the cerebrospinal fluid could one day be used to diagnose autism, or even that doctors could treat inflammation to prevent or combat autism, however this is still speculative, according to Andrew W. Zimmerman, a pediatric neurologist at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute in Baltimore and co-author of the paper. For one thing, it is possible that the inflammation represents the brain's efforts to combat some other process damaging to brain cells.

"These findings open new possibilities for understanding the dynamic changes that occur in the brain of autistic patients during childhood and adulthood. Although they may lend themselves to development of new medical treatments for autism, much more research would be needed
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Contact: David Greenberg
dgreenbe@wiley.com
201-748-6484
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
15-Nov-2004


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