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Is Neuroinflammation the primary cause of Autism?



Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. The disorder is typically diagnosed in early childhood, and it is estimated to affect around 1 in 100 children in the India (According to NIMHANS).


Autism in childhood is currently believed to be caused by developmental neurobiological factors. Despite this understanding, the specific areas of the brain that are affected and the way they function have yet to be fully determined. Research using structural brain imaging on individuals with autism has discovered anomalies like larger total brain volume and abnormalities in the cerebellum. However, these irregularities alone do not explain all the symptoms of autism.


In autism, functional studies have been performed at rest or during activation. However, first-generation functional imaging devices were not sensitive enough to detect any consistent dysfunction. Recently, with improved technology, two independent groups have reported bilateral hypoperfusion of the temporal lobes in autistic children. In addition, activation studies, using

Photo 93957448 © Patricioj | Dreamstime.com perceptual and cognitive paradigms, have shown an abnormal pattern of cortical activation in autistic patients. These results suggest that different connections between particular cortical regions could exist in autism.


Neuroimaging studies done by means of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have provided important insights into the neurobiological basis for autism.


Dysfunctional activation in key areas of verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, and executive functions are revised.


Many structural and functional neuroimaging studies have investigated the neuroanatomical changes and possible pathophysiological pathways in autism.


The exact cause of autism is still unknown, but research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the disorder. One emerging theory is that neuroinflammation may be one of primary causes of autism.


What is Neuroinflammation?


Neuroinflammation is the activation of the immune system in the brain. When the immune system is activated, it produces inflammatory molecules called cytokines. These cytokines are released by immune cells in the brain, called microglia, and they can cause damage to brain cells.


While neuroinflammation is a normal response to infection or injury, chronic

neuroinflammation can be harmful. Chronic neuroinflammation has been linked to a range of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis.


Neuroinflammation and Autism


Recent research has suggested that neuroinflammation may play a significant role in the development of autism. Several studies have shown that children with autism have elevated levels of cytokines and other markers of neuroinflammation in their blood and cerebrospinal fluid.

One study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, found that children with autism had significantly higher levels of several pro-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), compared to typically developing children.


Another study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that children with autism had higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, in their blood compared to typically developing children.


These findings suggest that neuroinflammation may be a common feature of autism. But what causes neuroinflammation in the first place?


Environmental Triggers of Neuroinflammation


While genetics may play a role in the development of autism, research has suggested that environmental factors may also contribute to the disorder. Some environmental factors that have been linked to neuroinflammation and autism include:


Maternal Inflammation

Maternal inflammation during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of autism in offspring. One study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found that mothers of children with autism were more likely to have elevated levels of CRP during pregnancy compared to mothers of typically developing children.


Infections

Infections during pregnancy or early childhood may also contribute to neuroinflammation and autism. One study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that children with autism were more likely to have a history of infections during the first two years of life compared to typically developing children.


Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins, such as mercury and lead, have been linked to neuroinflammation and may contribute to the development of autism. One study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, found that mice exposed to mercury during early development had increased levels of neuroinflammation and were more likely to display behaviors associated with autism.


Treatment Options

If neuroinflammation is indeed a primary cause of autism, then treating neuroinflammation may be a viable treatment option for the disorder. Several studies have suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs may be effective in reducing symptoms of autism.


One study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found that children with autism who were treated with the anti-inflammatory drugs showed significant improvements in social communication and repetitive behaviors compared to a control group.


Another study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that a combination of the anti-inflammatory drugs with Supplementation of NAC improved social communication and repetitive behaviors in children with autism.


While anti-inflammatory drugs can be effective in reducing neuroinflammation, they often come with side effects. However, balancing the nutrition and the correct supplementation plan have been shown to reduce neuroinflammation without the use of drugs and their associated side effects.


Conclusion


Neuroinflammation may be a primary cause of autism, and environmental triggers such as maternal inflammation, infections, and environmental toxins may contribute to the development of neuroinflammation in the brain. However with careful diet planning and accurate nutritional support we can ensure upto 60% of challenges in Autism symptoms can be reduced.


Healthy Nutrition Equals Healthy Brain

While more research is needed to fully understand the role of neuroinflammation in autism, early studies suggest that Diet, Nutrition and accurate supplementation instead of anti-inflammatory drugs may be a viable treatment option for the disorder.


In conclusion, nutrition and supplementation can play an important role in reducing neuroinflammation without the use of drugs and their associated side effects. Incorporating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and resveratrol, as well as supplementing with vitamin D and probiotics, can help reduce inflammation in the brain and improve cognitive function. It is important to note that while nutrition and supplementation can be effective in reducing neuroinflammation, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or supplementation regimen as there are lot of interdependencies and cofactors that need to be considered before popping any pills includng nutrtional supplementation.


References:

Harvard Medicine: Inflammation link for autism

Neuronal activity increases translocator protein (TSPO) levels

Translocator Protein 18 kDa (TSPO) Deficiency Inhibits Microglial Activation and Impairs Mitochondrial Function

Translocator protein (TSPO): the new story of the old protein in neuroinflammation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6999824/pdf/bmb-53-020.pdf

Evaluation of age-related changes in translocator protein (TSPO) in human brain using 11C-[R]-PK11195 PET



The translocator protein (18 kDa) and its role in neuropsychiatric disorders

Blood–brain barrier and intestinal epithelial barrier alterations in autism spectrum disorders

[11C]PBR28 MR–PET imaging reveals lower regional brain expression of translocator protein (TSPO) in young adult males with autism spectrum disorder

Postmortem Studies of Neuroinflammation in Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Systematic Review

Brain overgrowth in autism during a critical time in development: implications for frontal pyramidal neuron and interneuron development and connectivity
Neuroimaging of autism: a Brief Review

Autism at the beginning: microstructural and growth abnormalities underlying the cognitive and behavioral phenotype of autism

Brain development in autism: early overgrowth followed by premature arrest of growth


Elevated plasma cytokines in autism spectrum disorders provide evidence of immune dysfunction and are associated with impaired behavioral outcome

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