Researchers Identify Two Autism Phenotypes in Major Breakthrough

Researchers have identified two biologically different phenotypes of autism bringing research one step closer to classification.

A significant breakthrough has been made regarding the understanding of the biological make-up of autism.

Researchers from the University of California Davis's MIND Institute have identified two biologically different autism phenotypes, a finding which could potentially lead to new treatments and therapies for autistic individuals.

The researchers have “been able to subtype the two different groups [of autism]: one have overgrowth in their brains and the other group perhaps have abnormalities in their immune systems which may relate to factors inherited from their mothers,” reported Bruce Tonge, an autism expert from Monash University’s School of Psychology and Psychiatry. Tonge was not involved with this current study.

The researchers began the longitudinal study, known as the Autism Phenome Project, in 2006. Since then, they have focused on the brain growth, environmental exposure, and genetic structure of 350 autistic children between the ages of two and three-and-one-half years old.

The researchers found that one group of male child participants displayed enlarged brains, and most of the boys started to show signs of autism after 18 months of age; a separate group of children seemed to suffer from immune systems that did not perform well.

Lead researcher David Amaral, professor of psychiatry, reported that these findings could lead to specialized treatments for individuals.

"The ultimate goal is when a child comes into the clinic, rather than saying you just have autism, to be able to say you have autism type A, or type B, or type C," Amaral stated.

"And then based on that description, we would know whether there is a different treatment profile that we should recommend to the families.”

Amaral’s prediction for the future entails further discoveries of biological subtypes of autism. "If we were trying to cure all cancer at the same time, it would be hopeless," he said. "Well, the same is true for autism. My guess is that there just isn't going to be a single diagnostic marker for autism, there's going to be a whole panel."

Many experts have expressed hope that this finding will not only lead to better treatments for autistic children but also will aid in bettering communication and socialization with autistic children.

Amaral will present his team's research to the Asia Pacific Autism Conference.