Autism – Researchers find a link with abnormal Blood-Vessel Damage and Oxidative Stress

Autism – Researchers find a link with abnormal Blood-Vessel Damage and Oxidative Stress

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found children with autism have differences with abnormal blood-vessel function and damaging levels of oxidative stress compared with healthy children. Lead author, Domenico Pratico, MD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology along with colleagues, first published their findings in the August issue of the Archives of Neurology.

The children with autism presented with certain levels of biochemical differences that suggest the incidence of constricted blood vessels by way of the endothelium. These differences in the cells that line the blood vessels create a higher chance for the formation of clots.

Previous research studies have found that autistic children have reduced cerebral blood flow most probably caused by constricted blood vessels in the brain.

Urine samples of autistic children were collected along with healthy children as a control. If the children had ever taken anti-oxidant treatments or medicine that was known to have an anti-oxidant effect were excluded from the study. If the child had suffered from any chronic illnesses, depression, psychosis, inflammatory disorders or were sick at the time of the sample collection they were also excluded. Because of the narrow criteria the size of the study was small. There were 26 children with autism and 12 healthy children as controls.

The researchers measured for isoprostane which is a biomarker for oxidative stress. They also measured thromboxane which is a measure of platelet activation and prostacyclin which is related to blood vessel activation.

"This study represents the first observation that the rates of thromboxane and prostacyclin synthesis are both not only significantly increased in autism, but are closely correlated with the rate of oxidative stress," said Pratico.

The levels of isoprostane were almost double the level in autistic children compared to the healthy controls. This chemical byproduct, isoprostane, is known to be from free radicals that attack fat cells. Free radicals cause damage to cell membranes, proteins and genes through a process called oxidation.

Another finding was a biochemical imbalance in the autistic children’s blood vessels. These children had high levels of thromboxane which represents platelet activity. There was a high level of prostacyclin which is related to the constriction of the endothelial cells found in the blood vessels walls.

"During oxidative stress, it is as if the free radicals have only one leg," said Pratico. "They are searching for the second leg in order to keep from falling. Unfortunately, the ability of the excessive free radicals to reestablish their chemical equilibrium comes always with a price for the organ -- irreversible cellular and organ damage."

The researchers conclude that oxidative imbalance is one characteristic in the autistic syndrome. There may be other factors as it is a complex neurological disorder. Oxidative imbalance may play a part in the disease. The researchers report that there have been improvements in behavioral symptoms after taking anti-oxidants.

"In general, it is known that abnormalities in blood vessels can be clinically reflected by an abnormal blood flow," said Pratico. "In this regard, it is interesting that earlier neuroimaging studies of autistic children have demonstrated a reduced amount of blood reaching the brain. Shedding more light on the relationship of oxidative stress and blood-vessel health to the pathology of autism could lead to improvements in therapy."

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