Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. A potential role for immune dysfunction has been suggested in ASD. To test this hypothesis, we investigated evidence of differential cytokine release in plasma samples obtained from 2 to 5 year-old children with ASD compared with age-matched typically developing (TD) children and children with developmental disabilities other than autism (DD). Participants were recruited as part of the population based case-control CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) study and included: 97 participants with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD using standard assessments (DSM IV criteria and ADOS, ADI-R), 87 confirmed TD controls, and 39 confirmed DD controls. Plasma was isolated and cytokine production was assessed by multiplex Luminex™ analysis. Observations indicate significant increases in plasma levels of a number of cytokines, including IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-12p40 in the ASD group compared with TD controls (p<0.04). Moreover, when the ASD group was separated based on the onset of symptoms, it was noted that the increased cytokine levels were predominantly in children who had a regressive form of ASD. In addition, increasing cytokine levels were associated with more impaired communication and aberrant behaviors. In conclusion, using larger number of participants than previous studies, we report significantly shifted cytokine profiles in ASD. These findings suggest that ongoing inflammatory responses may be linked to disturbances in behavior and require confirmation in larger replication studies. The characterization of immunological parameters in ASD has important implications for diagnosis, and should be considered when designing therapeutic strategies to treat core symptoms and behavioral impairments of ASD.
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