University of Kansas experts believe they may have discovered a series of potential biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a group of conditions including autism and Asperger's syndrome. If confirmed, these markers would come in very handy for diagnosing at-risk patients early on.
Autism is very difficult to detect, primarily because it occurs in infants. Until the age of 2 or 3, they do not show clear signs of the condition, even though it is slowly developing inside. When doctors diagnose the condition, it is already too late for any type of treatment to work.
Scientists have been trying to discover a way of diagnosing the disease earlier on for many years, thus far with limited success. In the new study, the Kansas team was able to determine that children with ASD tend to have larger resting pupils than their healthy piers.
The research group also found that these kids had a higher level and a steadier concentration of a particular salivary enzyme, which previous studies have linked to the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. The molecule is called salivary alpha-amylase (sAA).
According to the research team, sAA levels in ASD children were consistently higher than in kids who did not display any sign of autism or related disorders. Basically, in autistic children, the sAA system is always working above desirable levels, PsychCentral
“What this says is that the autonomic system of children with ASD is always on the same level. They are in overdrive,” explains University of Kansas assistant research professor, Christa Anderson.
“Many theories of autism propose that the disorder is due to deficits in higher-order brain areas. Our findings, however, suggest that the core deficits may lie in areas of the brain typically associated with more fundamental, vital functions,” adds Kansa professor of psychology John Colombo.
The team published additional details of the new study in the latest online issue of the esteemed scientific journal Developmental Psychobiology. The researchers say that the work was focused on children aged 20 to 72 months.
A total of three groups were created – children in the first suffered from ASD, those in the second were developing normally, and kids in the third group had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
In the second group, sAA levels were found to rise and fall over the day. In the first one, levels remained constant throughout the day. The team says that this situation definitely deserves further investigation.