Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown aetiology. It is suggested to involve both genetic susceptibility and environmental factors including in the latter environmental toxins. Human exposure to the environmental toxin aluminium has been linked, if tentatively, to autism spectrum disorder. Herein we have used transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry to measure, for the first time, the aluminium content of brain tissue from donors with a diagnosis of autism. We have also used an aluminium-selective fluor to identify aluminium in brain tissue using fluorescence microscopy. The aluminium content of brain tissue in autism was consistently high. The mean (standard deviation) aluminium content across all 5 individuals for each lobe were 3.82(5.42), 2.30(2.00), 2.79(4.05) and 3.82(5.17) μg/g dry wt. for the occipital, frontal, temporal and parietal lobes respectively. These are some of the highest values for aluminium in human brain tissue yet recorded and one has to question why, for example, the aluminium content of the occipital lobe of a 15year old boy would be 8.74 (11.59) μg/g dry wt.? Aluminium-selective fluorescence microscopy was used to identify aluminium in brain tissue in 10 donors. While aluminium was imaged associated with neurones it appeared to be present intracellularly in microglia-like cells and other inflammatory non-neuronal cells in the meninges, vasculature, grey and white matter. The pre-eminence of intracellular aluminium associated with non-neuronal cells was a standout observation in autism brain tissue and may offer clues as to both the origin of the brain aluminium as well as a putative role in autism spectrum disorder.
Keywords: Aluminium-selective fluorescence microscopy; Autism spectrum disorder; Human brain tissue; Human exposure to aluminium; Transversely heated atomic absorption spectrometry.
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