In a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified a blood biomarker that may help with an earlier diagnosis of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The article is titled “A Search for Blood Biomarkers for Autism: Peptoids.”
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social deficits and communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, sensory issues, and in some cases, cognitive delays. These deficits are present in early childhood, and lead to clinically significant functional impairment. In order to identify individuals with ASD and initiate interventions at the earliest possible age, biomarkers for the disorder are desirable.
Now, the team of researchers identified a blood biomarker that could differentiate the majority of study participants with ASD versus a control group of comparable age range. Additionally, the biomarker was found to correlate with the level of communication impairment, a result that indicates the blood test may provide increased understanding of the severity of ASD.
“Numerous investigators have long sought a biomarker for ASD,” said Dr. Dwight German, study senior author and professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern, in a news release. “The blood biomarker reported here along with others we are testing can represent a useful test with over 80 percent accuracy in identifying ASD.”
Research findings have identified widespread changes in the immune system in children with autism, at both systemic and cellular levels. In this context, the researchers explored antibodies in the blood associated with ASD.
The team found that boys with ASD had reduced levels of serum IgG1 antibody. Then, researchers examined 25 peptoid compounds that bound to IgG1 and zeroed in on one – ASD1 – which was found to be 66 percent precise in predicting ASD. When combined with measurements of the level of the thyroid-stimulating hormone, the ASD1-binding biomarker was 73 percent accurate at predicting the disease.
According to German, more analysis, including examination of blood samples from girls with ASD, is required to confirm the study findings. Girls made up a small ratio in this study, and the biomarker did not correlate as powerfully with ASD diagnosis as with boys.
UT Southwestern is one of four universities in the U.S. taking part in the Autism BrainNet, an effort to collect and examine brain samples to understand ASD. Evidence from neuroimaging studies has shown that the brain of a child with ASD undergoes an abnormal development. However, more research is necessary to understand the underlying cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms that lead to the onset of autistic symptoms.
The Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern is an initiative that aims to better understand the brain’s molecular workings and apply these discoveries to the prevention and treatment of brain diseases and injuries.