Researchers Link Gluten Antibodies And Autism In Children
June 20, 2013

Researchers Link Gluten Antibodies And Autism In Children

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

A group of American researchers has found evidence of gluten antibodies in children with autism, suggesting a potential link between the body immune system and the developmental disorder.

The research team also found a connection between elevated antibody levels and gastrointestinal symptoms among affected children. They did not make a connection between elevated antibody levels and celiac disease, according to their report in the journal PLOS ONE.

Gluten is a group of more than 70 proteins found in wheat and other grains. It consists of two protein classes: gliadins and glutenins. The proteins are known to cause pain and discomfort in people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine.

The study, led by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), looked at blood samples and medical records of 140 children, including 37 children that were diagnosed with autism. Only children who were diagnosed with autism according to the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule or the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised were included in the study.

Researchers tested the blood samples for antibodies to tissue transglutaminase, a responsive and explicit marker of celiac disease, along with antibodies to gliadin. The patients underwent a genetic analysis for certain human leukocyte antigens, which are also associated with celiac disease.

“This is the first study to systematically look at serologic and genetic markers of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in such well-characterized cohorts of autism patients and controls," said co-author Dr. Peter H. R. Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at the CUMC. “But the findings need to be confirmed in larger cohorts."

According to the study authors, future studies should look into the relevance of these antibodies with respect to autism.

“The IgG antibody response to gluten does not necessarily indicate sensitivity to gluten or any disease-causing role for the antibodies in the context of autism," said Dr. Armin Alaedini, from the CUMC´s Department of Medicine. “But the higher levels of antibody to gluten and their association with gastrointestinal symptoms point to immunologic and/or intestinal permeability abnormalities in the affected children."

Alaedini added that investigating how the immune system responds to gluten might result in new findings about autism, reveal certain biomarkers, or lead to treatment strategies.

Although the causes of autism are unknown, or poorly understood at best, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting the immune system may play a role for some patients. According to some reports, gluten-free diets are becoming increasingly popular in the autism community, despite any clinical evidence of their effectiveness.

Many restaurants and companies have been making gluten-free versions of their products available. One of the latest is Dunkin' Donuts, which announced this week it will offer gluten-free cinnamon-sugar donuts and blueberry muffins by the end of 2013.

"We understand that sensitivities to food ingredients such as gluten are a serious concern for certain guests," said the company's PR director Michelle King, in a statement.

Many attribute the increased amount of gluten-free offerings to a desire to cater to those with celiac disease, about one percent of the population, and others who have adopted gluten-free diets in recent years.