Summary: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child's life. In the quest for more reliable and noninvasive markers scientists suggest that a simple spit test may prove effective in detecting autism. This study seems to be promising and groundbreaking, despite being in its infancy.


 It’s important to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or autism early so that treatments and therapies can be started sooner, which can result in improved functional outcomes. To help with this process, researchers are searching for a biological marker to identify the disorder.

(Costel C. Darie, Clarkson University)

In the absence of such a biological marker, medical professionals evaluate social skills and behavioral patterns, which can provide the initial clues for autism diagnosis.

However, the approach now seems to be changing. Researchers are testing salivary proteins for early clues of autism, prior to behavioral patterns becoming apparent to clinicians, educators, and parents. Novel proteins have been discovered which are contained in saliva that can act as biomarkers of ASD, thereby helping in early identification of ASD in patients. 

The first study published by the scientists at the University of Pittsburg shows that there are differences in the protein levels in the saliva of kids with ASD compared to those in typically developing children. The researchers examined the saliva of 6 children with autism, aged within 6 to 16 years, and that of 6 typically developing kids falling in the same age group. They measured the protein differences in the saliva obtained from these two groups using a technique called mass spectrometry. (Alisa G. Woods, Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York)

In this study, researchers discovered that 9 different proteins were remarkably heightened in the saliva of kids with ASD, and 3 proteins were either absent or present in low levels. The researchers stated that this information can help in creating a certain profile or makeup for indicating the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders and its presence.

The identified proteins primarily play a role in the immune system responses. These proteins are present in elevated concentrations in individuals suffering from gastrointestinal problems. This finding agrees with previous research, which suggests that an overactive immune system and inflammation might be heightened in ASD. The scientists also stated that many among the proteins identified interact with each other.

Lactotransferrin, one of the identified proteins, may actually act as a marker to indicate gastrointestinal issues in autism. It may also have the ability to identify individuals who have the risk of gastrointestinal issues with autism. Such individuals may face difficulties in expressing potential symptoms. This protein in the saliva can potentially act as a marker in such cases.

Scientist approach cautiously to this new avenue of diagnosing as they think that a larger cohort of autistic patients should be involved and study the implication of a variety of proteins contained in saliva.


COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a nonprofit institution co-founded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Vedat Sunguri ( Master of Pharmacy, University of Pristina) .