It’s important to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or autism early so that treatments and therapies can be started sooner, which can result in improved functional outcomes. To help with this process, researchers are searching for a biological marker to identify the disorder.
In the absence of such a biological marker, medical professionals evaluate social skills and behavioural patterns, which can provide the initial clues for autism diagnosis.
However, the approach now seems to be changing. Researchers are testing salivary proteins for early clues of autism, prior to behavioral patterns becoming apparent to clinicians, educators, and parents.
New proteins have been discovered which are contained in saliva that can act as biomarkers of ASD, thereby helping in early identification of ASD in patients. This discovery has been made by scientists at the Clarkson University, Potsdam in New York.
According to the researchers at State University of New York, Plattsburgh, and at the Clarkson University, autism may one day be diagnosed with the help of a spit test.
The first study published by the scientists at these universities shows that there are differences in the protein levels in the saliva of kids with ASD compared to those in typically developing children. This study was published in the journal “Autism Research” in its Jan 27 issue.
Armand Gatien Ngounou Wetie, a doctoral candidate at Clarkson University, led the team of researchers who conducted the study. The researchers examined the saliva of 6 children with autism, aged within 6 to 16 years, and that of 6 typically developing kids falling in the same age group. They measured the protein differences in the saliva obtained from these two groups using a technique called mass spectrometry.
In this study, researchers discovered that 9 different proteins were remarkably heightened in the saliva of kids with ASD, and 3 proteins were either absent or present in low levels. The researchers stated that this information can help in creating a certain profile or makeup for indicating the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders and its presence.
Alisa G. Woods, a researcher working at both SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Neurobehavioral Health and Clarkson University, said, “We found nine proteins that were significantly elevated in the saliva of the people with autism and three that were lower or even absent.” She is one of the researchers who led the study. She further added, “This is the first study to identify these changes in saliva, which is a relatively easy biofluid to obtain for clinical use or research.”
The identified proteins primarily play a role in the immune system responses. These proteins are present in elevated concentrations in individuals suffering from gastrointestinal problems. This finding agrees with previous research, which suggests that an overactive immune system and inflammation might be heightened in ASD. The scientists also stated that many among the proteins identified interact with each other.
Costel C. Darie, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biomolecular Science at the Clarkson University and a proteomics expert and co-lead author, said, “We are the first in the world who proposed a protein complex as a potential biomarker signature, which gives us information not only about the proteins, their relative quantities and their modifications, but also about their interactions with other proteins.”
Lactotransferrin, one of the identified proteins, may actually act as a marker to indicate gastrointestinal issues in autism. It may also have the ability to identify individuals who have the risk of gastrointestinal issues with autism. Such individuals may face difficulties in expressing potential symptoms. This protein in the saliva can potentially act as a marker in such cases.
The study proved to be quite promising when it comes to developing a diagnostic test for autism. The use of saliva makes the approach much simpler, as it can be obtained from patients easily and noninvasively. However, a greater number of subjects should be studied in order to confirm that the markers have a consistent difference in individuals with autism.
Ngounou said, “We have found some interesting proteins that are different from children with autism compared with controls, and I think the next stage would be to increase the pool of samples to confirm those findings.”
The researchers want to study the protein differences further, in bigger groups of kids with autism, and in certain autism subtypes.
You can read the research paper here.
This groundbreaking research, however, is at an early phase in its evolution. At this moment, it isn’t clear whether or not a direct relationship exists between the evaluation of salivary proteins and gastrointestinal issues or immune disturbances in individuals with ASD.
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Chloe Paltrow has been working as a psychiatrist for the last 10 years, with Autism Spectrum Disorders as her main area of interest. Currently, she is studying how effective the hyperbaric oxygen chamber is in autism treatment, and is working as a part time psychiatrist at OxyHealth. She also likes to share the current news and research in the field of Autism and ASD.
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