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Spontaneous Mucosal Lymphocyte Cytokine Profiles in Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Mucosal Immune Activation and Reduced Counter Regulatory Interleukin-10

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A lymphocytic enterocolitis has been reported in a cohort of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. This study tested the hypothesis that dysregulated intestinal mucosal immunity with enhanced pro-inflammatory cytokine production is present in these ASD children. Comparison was made with developmentally normal children with, and without, mucosal inflammation. Duodenal and colonic biopsies were obtained from 21 ASD children, and 65 developmentally normal paediatric controls, of which 38 had signs of histological inflammation. Detection of CD3+ lymphocyte staining for spontaneous intracellular TNFα, IL-2, IL-4, IFNγ, and IL-10, was performed by multicolor flow cytometry. Duodenal and colonic mucosal CD3+ lymphocyte counts were elevated in ASD children compared with noninflamed controls (p<0.03). In the duodenum, the proportion of lamina propria (LP) and epithelial CD3+TNFα+ cells in ASD children was significantly greater compared with noninflamed controls (p<0.002) but not coeliac disease controls. In addition, LP and epithelial CD3+IL-2+ and CD3+IFNγ+, and epithelial CD3+IL-4+ cells were more numerous in ASD children than in noninflamed controls (p<0.04). In contrast, CD3+IL-10+ cells were fewer in ASD children than in noninflamed controls (p<0.05). In the colon, LP CD3+TNFα+ and CD3+IFNγ+ were more frequent in ASD children than in noninflamed controls (p<0.01). In contrast with Crohn’s disease and non-Crohn’s colitis, LP and epithelial CD3+IL-10+ cells were fewer in ASD children than in nondisease controls (p<0.01). There was a significantly greater proportion of CD3+TNFα+ cells in colonic mucosa in those ASD children who had no dietary exclusion compared with those on a gluten and/or casein free diet (p<0.05). There is a consistent profile of CD3+ lymphocyte cytokines in the small and large intestinal mucosa of these ASD children, involving increased pro-inflammatory and decreased regulatory activities. The data provide further evidence of a diffuse mucosal immunopathology in some ASD children and the potential for benefit of dietary and immunomodulatory therapies.

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ASHWOOD, P., ANTHONY, A., TORRENTE, F. et al. Spontaneous Mucosal Lymphocyte Cytokine Profiles in Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Mucosal Immune Activation and Reduced Counter Regulatory Interleukin-10. J Clin Immunol 24, 664–673 (2004).

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