Could treating inflammation mitigate the symptoms of autism? That is the next phase of research Professor Arking and fellow researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore hope to investigate, after a remarkable study they completed indicated that individuals with autism have microglial cells (cells which "police" the human brain for threats) that were constantly activated with their inflammation-response genes switched on. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham assisted in the new inflammation-in-autism research, and the team published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
One in 68 kids in the United States have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the cause is considered unknown, according to Medical News Today, which featured an article on the new research into the inflammation connection. Previous research had already indicated that inflammation was linked to autism, according to a paper published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.
Arking and his colleagues examined data about gene expression from 104 brain samples that were obtained from 72 people. Some of the samples were from the brains of people with autism. The team claims that this is the largest dataset ever used in an autism study which examined gene expression.
The researchers say that the type of inflammation involved is not completely understood yet. They are uncertain if the inflammation, an immune response, is helping people with autism in the short term and making them worse in the long term, but they do not feel that the inflammation is the cause of autism. They do think it's possible that treating the inflammation might lead to elimination of some symptoms of autism in affected individuals, and hope further investigation will reveal the answer to the highly debated question.
Finding the inflammation-response genes activated is a major piece of the autism puzzle the researchers feel.
Earlier research lends credence to the possibility. The Inquisitr reported earlier that individuals given a daily dose of the chemical sulforaphane, a substance found in large doses in broccoli sprouts which, according to research in the Proceedings of the British Pharmacological Society, is a possible therapeutic tool in reducing this inflammation. Additional research found that sulforaphane can suppress inflammation in primary rat microglia cells.
"In spite of so many years of assumptions that a brain disorder like this is not treatable, we're helping kids get better," Harvard pediatric neurologist, Martha Herbert, who authored a paper in the journal Clinical Neuropsychiatry on the subject, told Discover seven years ago.
At that time, the incidence of autism was one in 166 children.
"I no longer see autism as a disorder of the brain but as a disorder that affects the brain," Herbert told Discover back in 2007. "It also affects the immune system and the gut."
Back then, the Discover article proclaimed that "affected genes may disturb fundamental pathways in the body and lead to chronic inflammation across the brain, immune system, and digestive system," adding that "inflammation is treatable."
Herbert has since authored the book Autism Revolution, and "is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is the director of the TRANSCEND Research Program. She sits on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Autism Speaks," according to her bio.
The idea that treating inflammation will mitigate the symptoms of autism is in no way novel. Vast numbers of parents of children with autism have claimed diets that treat inflammation have helped their children, though the idea has been ridiculed over the years. Now researchers are finally able to explain some of the complexities of autism-related inflammation, and are setting their sights on advanced scientific research into the possibility of treating autism symptoms by treating inflammation itself.
[Photo by Linsenhejhej]