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Concept: Autism spectrum


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder in which a significant number of the children experience a developmental regression characterized by a loss of previously acquired skills and abilities. Typically reported are losses of verbal, nonverbal, and social abilities. Several recent studies suggest that children diagnosed with an ASD have abnormal sulfation chemistry, limited thiol availability, and decreased glutathione (GSH) reserve capacity, resulting in a compromised oxidation/reduction (redox) and detoxification capacity. Research indicates that the availability of thiols, particularly GSH, can influence the effects of thimerosal ™ and other mercury (Hg) compounds. TM is an organomercurial compound (49.55% Hg by weight) that has been, and continues to be, used as a preservative in many childhood vaccines, particularly in developing countries. Thiol-modulating mechanisms affecting the cytotoxicity of TM have been identified. Importantly, the emergence of ASD symptoms post-6 months of age temporally follows the administration of many childhood vaccines. The purpose of the present critical review is provide mechanistic insight regarding how limited thiol availability, abnormal sulfation chemistry, and decreased GSH reserve capacity in children with an ASD could make them more susceptible to the toxic effects of TM routinely administered as part of mandated childhood immunization schedules.

Concepts: Autism, Disulfide bond, Glutathione, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Cysteine, Thiol, Thiols


We sought to determine whether high-dose folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with non-syndromic autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and language impairment in a double-blind placebo control setting. Forty-eight children (mean age 7 years 4  months; 82% male) with ASD and language impairment were randomized to receive 12 weeks of high-dose folinic acid (2 mg kg(-1) per day, maximum 50 mg per day; n=23) or placebo (n=25). Children were subtyped by glutathione and folate receptor-α autoantibody (FRAA) status. Improvement in verbal communication, as measured by a ability-appropriate standardized instrument, was significantly greater in participants receiving folinic acid as compared with those receiving placebo, resulting in an effect of 5.7 (1.0,10.4) standardized points with a medium-to-large effect size (Cohen’s d=0.70). FRAA status was predictive of response to treatment. For FRAA-positive participants, improvement in verbal communication was significantly greater in those receiving folinic acid as compared with those receiving placebo, resulting in an effect of 7.3 (1.4,13.2) standardized points with a large effect size (Cohen’s d=0.91), indicating that folinic acid treatment may be more efficacious in children with ASD who are FRAA positive. Improvements in subscales of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale, the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, the Autism Symptom Questionnaire and the Behavioral Assessment System for Children were significantly greater in the folinic acid group as compared with the placebo group. There was no significant difference in adverse effects between treatment groups. Thus, in this small trial of children with non-syndromic ASD and language impairment, treatment with high-dose folinic acid for 12 weeks resulted in improvement in verbal communication as compared with placebo, particularly in those participants who were positive for FRAAs.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 18 October 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.168.

Concepts: Improve, Statistical significance, Autism, Placebo, Folic acid, Effect size, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum


There has been enormous debate regarding the possibility of a link between childhood vaccinations and the subsequent development of autism. This has in recent times become a major public health issue with vaccine preventable diseases increasing in the community due to the fear of a ‘link’ between vaccinations and autism. We performed a meta-analysis to summarise available evidence from case-control and cohort studies on this topic (MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE, Google Scholar up to April, 2014). Eligible studies assessed the relationship between vaccine administration and the subsequent development of autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Two reviewers extracted data on study characteristics, methods, and outcomes. Disagreement was resolved by consensus with another author. Five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children, and five case-control studies involving 9920 children were included in this analysis. The cohort data revealed no relationship between vaccination and autism (OR: 0.99; 95% CI: 0.92 to 1.06) or ASD (OR: 0.91; 95% CI: 0.68 to 1.20), or MMR (OR: 0.84; 95% CI: 0.70 to 1.01), or thimerosal (OR: 1.00; 95% CI: 0.77 to 1.31), or mercury (Hg) (OR: 1.00; 95% CI: 0.93 to 1.07). Similarly the case-control data found no evidence for increased risk of developing autism or ASD following MMR, Hg, or thimerosal exposure when grouped by condition (OR: 0.90, 95% CI: 0.83 to 0.98; p=0.02) or grouped by exposure type (OR: 0.85, 95% CI: 0.76 to 0.95; p=0.01). Findings of this meta-analysis suggest that vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.

Concepts: Public health, Epidemiology, Vaccine, Vaccination, Autism, Autism spectrum


Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiologies of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but evidence of specific environmental exposures and susceptibility windows is limited. Here we study monozygotic and dizygotic twins discordant for ASD to test whether fetal and postnatal metal dysregulation increases ASD risk. Using validated tooth-matrix biomarkers, we estimate pre- and post-natal exposure profiles of essential and toxic elements. Significant divergences are apparent in metal uptake between ASD cases and their control siblings, but only during discrete developmental periods. Cases have reduced uptake of essential elements manganese and zinc, and higher uptake of the neurotoxin lead. Manganese and lead are also correlated with ASD severity and autistic traits. Our study suggests that metal toxicant uptake and essential element deficiency during specific developmental windows increases ASD risk and severity, supporting the hypothesis of systemic elemental dysregulation in ASD. Independent replication in population-based studies is needed to extend these findings.

Concepts: Chemical element, Zinc, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Twin, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS


BACKGROUND: Graph theory has been recently introduced to characterize complex brain networks, making it highly suitable to investigate altered connectivity in neurologic disorders. A current model proposes autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a developmental disconnection syndrome, supported by converging evidence in both non-syndromic and syndromic ASD. However, the effects of abnormal connectivity on network properties have not been well studied, particularly in syndromic ASD. To close this gap, brain functional networks of electroencephalographic (EEG) connectivity were studied through graph measures in patients with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), a disorder with a high prevalence of ASD, as well as in patients with non-syndromic ASD. METHODS: EEG data were collected from TSC patients with ASD (n = 14) and without ASD (n = 29), from patients with non-syndromic ASD (n = 16), and from controls (n = 46). First, EEG connectivity was characterized by the mean coherence, the ratio of inter- over intra-hemispheric coherence and the ratio of long- over short-range coherence. Next, graph measures of the functional networks were computed and a resilience analysis was conducted. To distinguish effects related to ASD from those related to TSC, a two-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was applied, using age as a covariate. RESULTS: Analysis of network properties revealed differences specific to TSC and ASD, and these differences were very consistent across subgroups. In TSC, both with and without a concurrent diagnosis of ASD, mean coherence, global efficiency, and clustering coefficient were decreased and the average path length was increased. These findings indicate an altered network topology. In ASD, both with and without a concurrent diagnosis of TSC, decreased long- over short-range coherence and markedly increased network resilience were found. CONCLUSIONS: The altered network topology in TSC represents a functional correlate of structural abnormalities and may play a role in the pathogenesis of neurological deficits. The increased resilience in ASD may reflect an excessively degenerate network with local overconnection and decreased functional specialization. This joint study of TSC and ASD networks provides a unique window to common neurobiological mechanisms in autism. Please see related commentary article here

Concepts: Brain, Electroencephalography, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Tuberous sclerosis, Graph, Network theory


BACKGROUND: There are no effective medications for the treatment of social cognition/function deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and adult intervention literature in this area is sparse. Emerging data from animal models and genetic association studies as well as early, single-dose intervention studies suggest that the oxytocin system may be a potential therapeutic target for social cognition/function deficits in ASD. The primary aim of this study was to examine the safety/therapeutic effects of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in adults with ASD, with respect to the two core symptom domains of social cognition/functioning and repetitive behaviors. METHODS: This was a pilot, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design trial of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in 19 adults with ASD (16 males; 33.20 +/- 13.29 years). Subjects were randomized to 24 IU intranasal oxytocin or placebo in the morning and afternoon for 6 weeks. Measures of social function/cognition (the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy) and repetitive behaviors (Repetitive Behavior Scale Revised) were administered. Secondary measures included the Social Responsiveness Scale, Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test and the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale – compulsion subscale and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotional/social subscales). Full-information maximum-likelihood parameter estimates were obtained and tested using mixed-effects regression analyses. RESULTS: Although no significant changes were detected in the primary outcome measures after correcting for baseline differences, results suggested improvements after 6 weeks in measures of social cognition (Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test, p = 0.002, d = 1.2), and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotion, p = 0.031, d = 0.84), both secondary measures. Oxytocin was well tolerated and no serious adverse effects were reported. CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study suggests that there is therapeutic potential to daily administration of intranasal oxytocin in adults with ASD and that larger and longer studies are warranted.Trial registrationNCT00490802.

Concepts: Psychology, Randomized controlled trial, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, World Health Organization


The aim of this study was to examine paternal age in relation to risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in a setting other than the industrialized west.

Concepts: Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS


We present an efficient approach to discriminate between typical and atypical brains from macroscopic neural dynamics recorded as magnetoencephalograms (MEG). Our approach is based on the fact that spontaneous brain activity can be accurately described with stochastic dynamics, as a multivariate Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process (mOUP). By fitting the data to a mOUP we obtain: 1) the functional connectivity matrix, corresponding to the drift operator, and 2) the traces of background stochastic activity (noise) driving the brain. We applied this method to investigate functional connectivity and background noise in juvenile patients (n = 9) with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and compared them to age-matched juvenile control subjects (n = 10). Our analysis reveals significant alterations in both functional brain connectivity and background noise in ASD patients. The dominant connectivity change in ASD relative to control shows enhanced functional excitation from occipital to frontal areas along a parasagittal axis. Background noise in ASD patients is spatially correlated over wide areas, as opposed to control, where areas driven by correlated noise form smaller patches. An analysis of the spatial complexity reveals that it is significantly lower in ASD subjects. Although the detailed physiological mechanisms underlying these alterations cannot be determined from macroscopic brain recordings, we speculate that enhanced occipital-frontal excitation may result from changes in white matter density in ASD, as suggested in previous studies. We also venture that long-range spatial correlations in the background noise may result from less specificity (or more promiscuity) of thalamo-cortical projections. All the calculations involved in our analysis are highly efficient and outperform other algorithms to discriminate typical and atypical brains with a comparable level of accuracy. Altogether our results demonstrate a promising potential of our approach as an efficient biomarker for altered brain dynamics associated with a cognitive phenotype.

Concepts: Brain, Traumatic brain injury, Human brain, Electroencephalography, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum


Although there is considerable research into the genetic background of autism spectrum disorders, environmental factors are likely to contribute to the variation in prevalence over time. Rodent experiments indicate that environmental exposures can have effects on subsequent generations, and human studies indicate that parental prenatal exposures may play a part in developmental variation. Here we use the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to test the hypothesis that if the mother or father (F1) had been exposed to their own mother’s (F0) smoking during pregnancy, the offspring (F2) would be at increased risk of autism. We find an association between maternal grandmother smoking in pregnancy and grand daughters having adverse scores in Social Communication and Repetitive Behaviour measures that are independently predictive of diagnosed autism. In line with this, we show an association with actual diagnosis of autism in her grandchildren. Paternal grandmothers smoking in pregnancy showed no associations.

Concepts: Family, Parent, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Mother, Father, Grandparent


Self-control problems commonly manifest as temper outbursts and repetitive/rigid/impulsive behaviors, in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which often contributes to learning difficulties and caregiver burden. The present study aims to compare the effect of a traditional Chinese Chan-based mind-body exercise, Nei Yang Gong, with that of the conventional Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique in enhancing the self-control of children with ASD. Forty-six age- and IQ-matched ASD children were randomly assigned to receive group training in Nei Yang Gong (experimental group) or PMR (control group) twice per week for four weeks. The participants' self-control was measured by three neuropsychological tests and parental rating on standardized questionnaires, and the underlying neural mechanism was assessed by the participants' brain EEG activity during an inhibitory-control task before and after intervention. The results show that the experimental group demonstrated significantly greater improvement in self-control than the control group, which concurs with the parental reports of reduced autistic symptoms and increased control of temper and behaviors. In addition, the experimental group showed enhanced EEG activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region that mediates self-control, whereas the PMR group did not. The present findings support the potential application of Chinese Chan-based mind-body exercises as a form of neuropsychological rehabilitation for patients with self-control problems. Chinese Clinical Trial Registry; Registration No.: ChiCTR-TRC-12002561; URL:

Concepts: Psychology, Experimental design, Autism, Neuropsychology, Autism spectrum, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex