Possible link between autism and airway abnormality

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 .

Provided by American College of Chest Physicians

4 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

No link found between autism and celiac disease

May 01, 2007

Contrary to previous studies, autistic children are no more likely than other children to have celiac disease, according to new research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting ...

New research may lead to improved diagnosis of autism

May 31, 2011

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may provide an early and objective indicator of autism, according to researchers at Columbia University in New York City, who used the technique to document language impairment ...

Children with autistic traits remain undiagnosed

Mar 22, 2010

There has been a major increase in the incidence of autism over the last twenty years. While people have differing opinions as to why this is (environment, vaccines, mother's age, better diagnostic practice, more awareness ...

Mental disorders in parents linked to autism in children

May 05, 2008

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records ...

Recommended for you

Restrictions lifted at British bird flu farm

16 hours ago

Britain on Sunday lifted all restrictions at a duck farm in northern England after last month's outbreak of H5N8 bird flu, the same strain seen in recent cases across Europe.

Recorded Ebola deaths top 7,000

Dec 20, 2014

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban ...

Liberia holds Senate vote amid Ebola fears (Update)

Dec 20, 2014

Health workers manned polling stations across Liberia on Saturday as voters cast their ballots in a twice-delayed Senate election that has been criticized for its potential to spread the deadly Ebola disease.

Evidence-based recs issued for systemic care in psoriasis

Dec 19, 2014

(HealthDay)—For appropriately selected patients with psoriasis, combining biologics with other systemic treatments, including phototherapy, oral medications, or other biologic, may result in greater efficacy ...

User 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.