Background: Neuroimmune regulation abnormalities have been implicated in the pathophysiology of autistic disorder. Nitric oxide (NO) is involved in immune reactivity and is known to affect brain neurodevelopmental processes. Recent evidence indicates that NO, and cytokines involved in NO production, may be high in children with autism. The purpose of this study was to verify that plasma NO is high in children with autism and determine whether this elevation is related to plasma levels of cytokines involved in NO production.
Methods: The metabolites of NO, nitrite, and nitrate (NOx), along with the cytokines interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interleukin-1beta, were measured in plasma of 29 children with autism (mean age +/- SD = 6.1 +/- 2.8 years) and 27 age- and gender-matched healthy comparison subjects using commercially available assay kits.
Results: Plasma levels of NOx were significantly higher in the autistic subjects (p =.006); plasma levels of the cytokines did not differ between groups. NOx and IFN-gamma levels were positively correlated in the autistic subjects (r =.51; p =.005).
Conclusions: These results confirm that plasma NO is high in some children with autism and suggest that this elevation may be related to IFN-gamma activity.