Early intervention and therapy can help greatly to improve an autistic person's life, but this means that diagnosing autism and autism spectrum disorders must be done early and accurately. Currently, early diagnosis can be difficult because it based on subjective assessments of behavior. Finding a biological marker for autism would help make diagnosing the condition more accurate.
Researchers at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, and the State University of New York at Plattsburg have found that children with autism spectrum disorder have some differences in the amounts of certain proteins in their saliva when compared to normally developing children. The used mass spectrography to analyze saliva samples from both children with autism and normally developing children to look at the proteome, which is the entire set of proteins contained in a cell, or in this case the saliva samples.
They found nine proteins that are elevated in those with autism and three that were lower or completely absent. These proteins have functions in immune system responses or are elevated in gastrointestinal problems. There have been suggestions that disturbances in the immune and gastrointestinal systems may be present in people with autism spectrum disorders.
This work is at a very preliminary stage and there is the possibility that it will not pan out. More studies need to be done with larger groups of autistic and healthy people to ensure that these marker proteins are accurate and consistent markers for autism spectrum disorders. However, it is a promising first step.
"This is the first study to identify these changes in saliva, which is a relatively easy biofluid to obtain for clinical use or research," said Alisa G. Woods, a researcher at Clarkson University and an author of the study.
Estimates for the number of people with autism range from 1 in 68 to 1 in 50.