Researchers in Japan have discovered a biomarker that can detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in preschool-aged children.
Published in Brain Communications, the researchers took blood samples from preschool-aged children with and without ASD and compared their adipokine levels. They found that preschool-aged children with ASD had much lower levels of serum fatty acid binding protein 4 (FABP4) than other children, but other adipokines did not differ between groups. A second test in two other groups of children confirmed these results.
To confirm the importance of FABP4, the researchers created knockout mice that lacked the FABP4 gene. Compared with wildtype mice, these mice interacted less with unknown mice and had more difficulty with spatial learning and memory. Additionally, when the team examined the neurons in the mouse brains, they found shape and structural characteristics that match those found in postmortem brains from people with ASD.
The researchers hope to replicate their findings in a larger group to determine whether specific ASD symptoms or their severity are related to low levels of FABP4. A prospective cohort study of newborns is also planned to determine if FABP4 levels at birth can predict the future manifestation of ASD.