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Brain's immune system triggered in autism

A Johns Hopkins study has found new evidence that the brains of some people with autism show clear signs of inflammation, suggesting that the disease may be associated with activation of the brain's immune system.

"These findings reinforce the theory that immune response in the brain is involved in autism, although it is not yet clear whether the inflammation is a consequence of disease or a cause of it, or both," said Carlos Pardo-Villamizar, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and pathology at Johns Hopkins and senior author of a report on the study published early on-line in the journal Annals of Neurology on Nov. 15.

Whatever the cause of the inflammation, it may provide a good target for developing new treatments, adds Pardo.

Autism is a disorder of the developing brain that appears in early childhood. According to the American Neurological Association, it is estimated to afflict between two and five of every 1,000 children and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Children with autism have difficulties in social interaction and communication and may show repetitive behaviors and have unusual attachments to objects or routines.

Autism has a strong genetic component in some families, although other causes likely play a role, possibly including birth complications, diet, toxins or infections, says Pardo.

"Scientists have found hints that the immune system may be involved in autism, but not all studies have confirmed this," said Pardo. "We wanted a more definitive answer, so rather than looking at the overall immune system, we focused on immune responses inside the relatively sealed environment of the nervous system."

Led by first author Diana L. Vargas, M.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Pardo's laboratory, the researchers examined tissue from three different regions of the brain in 11 people with autism, ages 5 to 44 years, who had died of accidents or injuries. They a
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Contact: Trent Stockton
tstockt1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
15-Nov-2004


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