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February 02, 2009

Saliva Test for Autism on the Horizon?

By Marlene Busko
January 9, 2009 — The discovery of abnormal salivary peptides in a subgroup of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may prove to be a useful biomarker for the disorder, a small study suggests.
Researchers found that more than 60% of children with ASD had hypophosphorylation of at least 1 of 4 salivary peptides.
"These results suggest that analysis of salivary phosphopeptides might help to discriminate a considerable subgroup of ASD patients," the researchers, led by Massimo Castagnola, PhD, from Università Cattolica, in Rome, Italy, write.
The study is published January 2 in the Journal of Proteome Research.
According to the authors, proteomic studies of body fluids offer a "high throughput approach" for the identification of potential biomarkers in a wide variety of diseases. However, they note, until now, saliva has been neglected for diagnostic and prognostic purposes, despite the fact that it offers several advantages, including the fact that it is noninvasive.
To look for potential salivary biomarkers for individuals with ASD, the researchers analyzed saliva samples from 27 children with ASD and 23 healthy, age-matched controls.
The children with ASD were aged 1.5 to 9 years, except for 1 boy who was 15 years old.
Of the children with ASD, 12 had autism, 1 had Asperger's syndrome, and 14 had pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed (DSM-IV).
Analysis of the saliva samples detected more than 120 salivary components. Statistical analysis revealed that the phosphorylation level of 4 specific peptides, however, was significantly lower in more than half of the autistic patients.
Although the study was small and other pathological conditions might explain these peptide changes, the statistical results were robust, according to the researchers.
The molecular basis of ASD may be partly explained by a defect in the phosphorylation process during the development of the central nervous system in the embryo or in early infancy, they suggest.
The research was supported by Telethon, International Scientific Institute “Paolo VI,” Università di Cagliari, Università Cattolica, Ministero dell'Istruzione dell'Università e della Ricerca, Italian National Research Council, Regione Sardegna, and Fondazione Banco di Sardegna.
J Proteome Res. 2008;7:5327-5332. Abstract

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