The pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is not completely understood, but there is evidence of associations with altered immune responses. The aim of this study was to determine the serum levels of various cytokines in children with ASD and in healthy controls, in order to determine their role in ASD and its diagnostic subgroups. Sixty-five ASD patients were enrolled from an epidemiological survey in Norway, of which 30 were diagnosed with childhood autism, 16 with Asperger syndrome, 12 with atypical autism, 1 with Rett syndrome, and 6 with another ASD diagnosis. The serum levels of 12 cytokines were measured in all of the patients and in 30 healthy children. The cytokine levels did not differ significantly between the ASD group and the healthy controls. However, the interleukin-8 (IL-8) level was significantly higher (6.82 vs 4.58 pg/ml, p = 0.017) while that of IL-10 was significantly lower (2.24 vs 6.49 pg/ml, p = 0.009) in patients with childhood autism than in controls. Furthermore, the IL-8 level was significantly higher in childhood autism than in Asperger syndrome (6.82 vs 4.05 pg/ml, p = 0.013). Our study shows that the cytokine profile of children diagnosed with ASD, regardless of the subdiagnosis, does not differ from healthy controls. However, differentiation into different diagnostic subgroups reveals significantly different levels of IL-8 and IL-10. This indicates that different mechanisms may underlie the different ASD subdiagnoses. Future research into the pathophysiological mechanisms of ASD should pay more attention to the different subdiagnoses of ASD.
Cytokine profile Autism spectrum disorders
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of pediatrician Pernille Tryli, diagnostic teams at the Departments of Habilitation at Lillehammer and Ottestad, and laboratory personnel in the hospitals at Lillehammer, Gjøvik, and Elverum. The study was supported by Innlandet Hospital research foundation.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Written statements of informed consent were obtained from the parents before any child (ASD or control) was included in the project. The regional Committee for Research Ethics (REK) provided approval for the study to be performed.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Ashwood P et al (2011a) Elevated plasma cytokines in autism spectrum disorders provide evidence of immune dysfunction and are associated with impaired behavioral outcome. Brain Behav Immun 25:40–5CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Ashwood P et al (2011b) Associations of impaired behaviors with elevated plasma chemokines in autism spectrum disorders. J Neuroimmunol 232:196–9CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Atladottir HO et al (2009) Association of family history of autoimmune diseases and autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics 124:687–94CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Baird G et al (2006) Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Lancet 368:210–5CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Bauer S, Kerr BJ, Patterson PH (2007) The neuropoietic cytokine family in development, plasticity, disease and injury. Nat Rev Neurosci 8:221–32CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Nawa H, Takei N (2006) Recent progress in animal modeling of immune inflammatory processes in schizophrenia: implication of specific cytokines. Neurosci Res 56:2–13CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Nordahl CW et al (2013) Maternal autoantibodies are associated with abnormal brain enlargement in a subgroup of children with autism spectrum disorder. Brain Behav Immun 30:61–5CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
Onore C, Careaga M, Ashwood P (2012) The role of immune dysfunction in the pathophysiology of autism. Brain Behav Immun 26:383–92CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Persico AM, Bourgeron T (2006) Searching for ways out of the autism maze: genetic, epigenetic and environmental clues. Trends Neurosci 29:349–58CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Rogers SJ (2004) Developmental regression in autism spectrum disorders. Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev 10:139–43CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Singer HS et al (2008) Antibodies against fetal brain in sera of mothers with autistic children. J Neuroimmunol 194:165–72CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Singh VK et al (1991) Changes of soluble interleukin-2, interleukin-2 receptor, T8 antigen, and interleukin-1 in the serum of autistic children. Clin Immunol Immunopathol 61:448–55CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar