Recent focus on new treatments for Autistic Spectrum disorders have zeroed in heavily on the immune component of this disease. Physicians around the world are becoming more and more convinced that Autism may be triggered by some autoimmune process leading to damage of the body’s own neurological system.
Quite a few studies have pointed to aberrant immune markers found more commonly in autistic children compared to normal healthy children, but most of these markers have never made it to the masses, instead their access was strictly for research.
However that now has changed.
A few years ago researchers discovered that a protein called Neurotensin was found extremely elevated in Autistic Children. They showed that this peptide released mitochondrial DNA into the extracellular space (outside the cell), which acted as an autoimmune trigger.
The mitochondria is basically the “power house” of the cell. If its function becomes abnormal, the cells no longer have the energy to function properly, thus leading to either cell death or severely limited function. Either way the cells with the damaged mitochondrial don’t function well. Neurons are very sensitive to mitochondrial damage, having a smaller amount compared to other cells requiring large amounts of energy, such as muscles.
The mitochondria has its own DNA content separate from our own cells. If this mitochondrial DNA was released somehow into the extracellular space, the body would then react to it as if it was foreign, like a virus or bacterial, creating an immune response. Well that’s exactly what Neurotensin was causing. Studies showed that when Neurotensin was elevated mitochondrial DNA was found outside in the extracellular space.
Recently in the Journal of Neuroinflammation researchers took it a step further. Since Neurotensin is not commercially available they decided to test markers that were. They also wanted to determine if this extracellular mitochondrial DNA was actually causing an immune response. This way parents may be able to definitely decide if their child’s immune system was attacking the mitochondria.
Enter anti-mitochondrial antibody type II, a marker used for primary biliary chirrosis.
Researchers found that this antibody was significantly elevated in Autistic children as compared to children not affected with Autism, effectively demonstrating that many children suffering from Autism were reacting to their own mitochondria. They postulated that this reaction was affecting multiple aspects of the immune system, laying the ground work for potential damage or excessive inflammation.
This is a great study, showing a possible cause and effect process. Anti-mitochondrial antibody is available to test for, with most insurance companies covering it.
If your child has never been tested for the antibody, it may be worthwhile to have your physician order it. Having knowledge that maybe your child is suffering an autoimmune process is huge. It definitely will be a marker I use and will change how I treat my patients.