Cytokine levels and associations with symptom severity in male and female children with autism spectrum disorder

Anne Masi, Edmond J. Breen, Gail A. Alvares, Nicholas Glozier, Ian B. Hickie, Anna Hunt, Jennie Hui, John Beilby, David Ravine, John Wray, Andrew J.O. Whitehouse, Adam J. Guastella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are complex, pervasive, and heterogeneous neurodevelopmental conditions with varying trajectories, significant male bias and largely unknown etiology. However, an understanding of the biological mechanisms driving pathophysiology is evolving. Immune system aberrations, as identified through cytokine profiles, are believed to have a role in ASD. Altered cytokine levels may facilitate identification of ASD subtypes as well as provide biological markers of response to effective treatments. Research exploring the relationship between cytokine profiles and ASD symptoms is, however, in its infancy. The objective of this study was to explore relationships between cytokine levels and the severity of ASD and other clinical traits. Methods: Multiplex assay techniques were used to measure levels of 27 cytokines in plasma samples from a cohort of 144 children diagnosed with ASD. Results: Overall, results showed a significant negative association between platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-BB, and the severity of ASD symptoms. Furthermore, a significant interaction with sex suggested a different immune profile for females compared to males. ASD symptom severity was negatively associated with levels of 4 cytokines, IL-1β, IL-8, MIP-1β, and VEGF, in females, but not in males. Conclusions: Results of the present study suggest that an altered cytokine response or profile is associated with the severity of ASD-related symptoms, with sex a potential modifier of this relationship. Further research in larger populations which recognizes the importance of sex comparisons and longitudinal assessments are now required to extend and further describe the role of the immune system in ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number63
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2017


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