CHICAGO, April 28 (Xinhua) — Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Stanford University have identified a biomarker in newborns that may signal autism spectrum disorder months or even years before troubling symptoms develop and such diagnoses typically are made.
The study involved 913 newborns with fevers whose cerebrospinal fluid was examined for markers of meningitis but who were found to be negative. The leftover spinal fluid was saved and stored. Included in those samples was cerebrospinal fluid from nine children who went on to be diagnosed with autism.
The researchers compared those nine samples to samples from 17 age- and gender-matched children who were never later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The nine children diagnosed later in childhood had significantly lower levels of arginine vasopressin or neuropeptide when they were infants than the 17 who did not go on to be diagnosed with the disorder.
The researchers then determined that babies whose samples had very low levels of the neuropeptide were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with autism later in childhood.
The researchers are planning a larger study to collect cerebrospinal fluid from newborns and measure levels of their neuropeptides to see whether the findings from this smaller study can be replicated.
Neuropeptides are short chains of amino acids. Levels of the neuropeptide identified in the study — arginine vasopressin — already are suspected to be lower in children with autism.