Opioid peptides and dipeptidyl peptidase in autism

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2003 Feb;45(2):121-8.


It has been hypothesized that autism results from an 'opioid peptide excess'. The aims of this study were to (1) confirm the presence of opioid peptides in the urine of children with autism and (2) determine whether dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPPIV/CD26) is defective in children with autism. Opioid peptides were not detected in either the urine of children with autism (10 children; nine males, one female; age range 2 years 6 months to 10 years 1 month) or their siblings (10 children; seven males, three females; age range 2 years 3 months to 12 years 7 months) using liquid chromatography-ultraviolet-mass spectrometric analysis (LC-UV-MS). Plasma from 11 normally developing adults (25 years 5 months to 55 years 5 months) was also tested. The amount and activity of DPPIV in the plasma were quantified by an ELISA and DPPIV enzyme assay respectively; DPPIV was not found to be defective. The percentage of mononuclear cells expressing DPPIV (as CD26) was determined by flow cytometry. Children with autism had a significantly lower percentage of cells expressing CD3 and CD26, suggesting that they had lower T-cell numbers than their siblings. In conclusion, this study failed to replicate the findings of others and questions the validity of the opioid peptide excess theory for the cause of autism.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / blood*
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology
  • Autistic Disorder / urine*
  • CD3 Complex / blood
  • CD3 Complex / physiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / blood*
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / physiology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Male
  • Opioid Peptides / physiology
  • Opioid Peptides / urine*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • CD3 Complex
  • Opioid Peptides
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4