Objective: To evaluate an association between cytokine production with common dietary proteins as a marker of non-allergic food hypersensitivity (NFH) and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Study design: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were obtained from 109 ASD children with or without GI symptoms (GI [+] ASD, N = 75 and GI (-) ASD, N = 34], from children with NFH (N = 15), and control subjects (N = 19). Diarrhea and constipation were the major GI symptoms. We measured production of type 1 T-helper cells (Th1), type 2 T-helper cells (Th2), and regulatory cytokines by PBMCs stimulated with whole cow's milk protein (CMP), its major components (casein, beta-lactoglobulin, and alpha-lactoalbumin), gliadin, and soy.
Results: PBMCs obtained from GI (+) ASD children produced more tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)/interleukin-12 (IL-12) than those obtained from control subjects with CMP, beta-lactoglobulin, and alpha-lactoalbumin, irrespective of objective GI symptoms. They also produced more TNF-alpha with gliadin, which was more frequently observed in the group with loose stools. PBMCs obtained from GI (-) ASD children produced more TNF-alpha/IL-12 with CMP than those from control subjects, but not with beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactoalbumin, or gliadin. Cytokine production with casein and soy were unremarkable.
Conclusion: A high prevalence of elevated TNF-alpha/IL-12 production by GI (+) ASD PBMCs with CMP and its major components indicates a role of NFH in GI symptoms observed in children with ASD.