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Urinary Metabolites Are Different in Autistic Children

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 15 Jun 2010
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A simple urine test is under development to diagnose children with autism.

People with autism also often suffer from gastrointestinal disorders and have a different makeup of bacteria in their guts from nonautistic people.

It is possible to distinguish between autistic and nonautistic children by looking at the by-products of gut bacteria and the body's metabolic processes in the children's urine. The exact biological significance of gastrointestinal disorders in the development of autism is unknown.

In a recent study, carried out by Anglo-Australian scientists, the chemical composition of the urine of three groups of children aged between 3 and 9 was investigated. The three groups were composed of 39 children who had previously been diagnosed with autism, 28 nonautistic siblings of children with autism, and 34 children who did not have autism and did not have an autistic sibling. The urines were analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-NMR), which can identify chemical molecules. Each of the three groups had a distinct chemical fingerprint, and autistic children had a different chemical fingerprint than the other two groups. Autistic children, for example, showed increased urinary excretion of nicotinic acid, high levels of urinary taurine and low levels of urinary glutamate. These biochemical changes are consistent with some of the known abnormalities of gut microbiota found in autistic individuals and the associated gastrointestinal dysfunction and may be of value in monitoring the success of therapeutic interventions.

Prof. Jeremy Nicholson, Ph.D. of Imperial College (Imperial College London, London, UK), said, "We know that giving therapy to children with autism when they are very young can make a huge difference to their progress. A urine test might enable professionals to quickly identify children with autism and help them early on." The study was published in June 2010 in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Autism affects an estimated 1 in every 100 people in the UK, and 1 in 166 children in the USA. Assessment for autism is a lengthy process involving a range of tests that explore the child's social interaction, communication, and imaginative skills. It is currently difficult to establish a firm diagnosis when children are less than 18 months of age.

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Imperial College London


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