Background: Autism causes incapacitating neurologic problems in children that last a lifetime. The author of this article previously hypothesized that autism may be caused by autoimmunity to the brain, possibly triggered by a viral infection. This article is a summary of laboratory findings to date plus new data in support of an autoimmune pathogenesis for autism.
Methods: Autoimmune markers were analyzed in the sera of autistic and normal children, but the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of some autistic children was also analyzed. Laboratory procedures included enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and protein immunoblotting assay.
Results: Autoimmunity was demonstrated by the presence of brain autoantibodies, abnormal viral serology, brain and viral antibodies in CSF, a positive correlation between brain autoantibodies and viral serology, elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines and acute-phase reactants, and a positive response to immunotherapy. Many autistic children harbored brain myelin basic protein autoantibodies and elevated levels of antibodies to measles virus and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Measles might be etiologically linked to autism because measles and MMR antibodies (a viral marker) correlated positively to brain autoantibodies (an autoimmune marker)--salient features that characterize autoimmune pathology in autism. Autistic children also showed elevated levels of acute-phase reactants--a marker of systemic inflammation.
Conclusions: The scientific evidence is quite credible for our autoimmune hypothesis, leading to the identification of autoimmune autistic disorder (AAD) as a major subset of autism. AAD can be identified by immune tests to determine immune problems before administering immunotherapy. The author has advanced a speculative neuroautoimmune (NAI) model for autism, in which virus-induced autoimmunity is a key player. The latter should be targeted by immunotherapy to help children with autism.