The Mysterious Cerebrospinal Fluid and Its Link to Autism
Recent research suggests that cerebrospinal fluids may hold a key to detecting signs of autism.
The study took place in early 2013 and as part of the follow-up, David Amaral started looking for children with a genetic history of autism.
David Amaral holds a PhD and commands an important position as the Beneto Foundation Chair. He is also Director of Research at MIND Institute; University of California Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Center for Neuroscience.
As per the data available, 1 out of 68 children are at risk for autism, irrespective of their socioeconomic, ethnic, or racial backgrounds. At two years of age, almost 45 children were found to be on the autism spectrum.
Nevertheless, finding biomarkers or any other disorder is the trickiest aspect of research in early detection. Researchers at North Carolina University have been successful in identifying a brain abnormality which could prove to be a strong link to autism in infants later in life. Scientists and researchers similarly believe that the findings could provide them with clues that can narrow down the therapeutic symptoms.
Cerebrospinal fluid is produced by the brain, and serves as a neural shock absorber, protecting the brain from bumping against the skull. Recently, scientists also came across the other functions of CSF; namely that it could act as a by-product for brain metabolism. Brain cells are linked to producing toxic products when they fire up the thinking cells.
The cerebrospinal fluid assists in filtering these by-products and is known to replenish the brain four times every day. However, researchers are doing further research to narrow down the relationship between excess cerebrospinal fluids and autism.
Previous researchers included only 55 children as subjects of the study. However, 343 infants have recently been enrolled into the latest study. It is still unclear as to whether excess fluid is responsible for autism in children.
Young infants who were later found to develop autism had more subarachnoid cerebrospinal fluid at the age of six months compared to their peers who did not develop autism traits.
The infants who were found to develop the most severe forms of autism symptoms were found to have greater amounts of cerebrospinal fluids— 24% higher at the age of six months. Researchers further tied the presence of excess fluids to poor motor skills.
Dr. Mark Shen, the first author of the study, said “We know that CSF is very important for brain health, and our data suggest that in this large subset of kids, the fluid is not flowing properly.”
It must be noted that although CSF could not be proven as the only factor giving rise to autistic traits, it is a step further toward unlocking the mystery behind autism. There is still room for improvement.
Researchers record fluid measures in infants that are six months old, and enter the data into a machine-learning algorithm that is capable of predicting which infants could end up with a diagnosis of autism later in life.
“Neuro-imaging CSF could be another tool to help paediatricians diagnose autism as early as possible,” said Shen.