Possible link between autism and airway abnormality

October 24, 2011

Autism and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are currently diagnosed primarily through subjective observation of autistic behaviors. However, new research, presented at CHEST 2011, the 77th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), suggests that a physical abnormality in the airway may be a prominent indicator for autism and autistic spectrum disorders, making it a possible diagnostic marker for this disease.

"With all of the bronchoscopies I've performed, I have not seen this type of abnormality in children who aren't autistic," said study author Barbara Stewart, MD, Nemours Children's Clinic, Pensacola, Florida. "It appears to be a definitive marker for or autistic spectrum disorder."

Dr. Stewart evaluated 49 children (< 18 years) with autism or ASD who were seen in a pulmonary clinic with a diagnosis of cough that was unresponsive to therapy. Bronchoscopic evaluations revealed that all patients with autism had anatomy that was initially normal, followed by take-offs in the lower airway that were doubled, or "doublets," as they are referred to by the author. Dr. Stewart further observed that, to her knowledge, no patient without autism has ever manifested doublet anomalies.

"Another way to think of this is "symmetric doubling" of airways in the lower airways. When airways divide beyond the first generation, they typically branch like a tree, with one branch on one side and one on the other. A "doublet" occurs when there are twin branches that come off together instead of one, which are exactly symmetrical, in each of the lower locations that can be seen."

Patients who have "doublets" in the lower airways may have higher airway resistance, which, as Dr. Stewart explained, "might be why the population of children with autistic spectrum disorder are not truly athletic people."

Although bronchoscopy can help identify the structure of the airway, Dr. Stewart cautions that it is not yet ready to be a screening or for autism.

"Bronchoscopy is a useful tool, but it is still an invasive surgical procedure and one that should not be undertaken lightly. The practitioner should consider the root cause for this embryologic anomaly, asking the deeper question concerning the genetic link of the doubling," said Dr. Stewart. "However, if there is a medical reason to perform bronchoscopic evaluation of the airway, one should obtain the maximum amount of information during that procedure."

"The potential association between autism and airway structure is intriguing; however, additional studies are needed to determine the genetic factors which may then lead to airway abnormalities," said David Gutterman, MD, FCCP, President of the .

Explore further: Weak synchronization in toddler brains may be a biological marker for autism

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The 'love hormone' may quiet tinnitus

September 23, 2016

(HealthDay)—People suffering from chronic ringing in the ears—called tinnitus—may find some relief by spraying the hormone oxytocin in their nose, a small initial study by Brazilian researchers suggests.

Bile acid uptake inhibitor prevents NASH / fatty liver in mice

September 21, 2016

Drugs that interfere with bile acid recycling can prevent several aspects of NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) in mice fed a high-fat diet, scientists from Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of ...

New therapeutic target for Crohn's disease

September 20, 2016

Research from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies a promising new target for future drugs to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study, published today in Cell Reports, also indicates ...

Mosquitoes, Zika and biotech regulation

September 19, 2016

In a new Policy Forum article in Science, NC State professor Jennifer Kuzma argues that federal authorities are missing an opportunity to revise outdated regulatory processes not fit for modern innovations in biotechnology, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.