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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Autism-Etiology, Immunology, Virology, Biochemistry, Autism, Viral co-infection, Virus diseases


Autism, a developmental disorder affecting 1 in 68 children in the United States today, has increased dramatically since ~1970. Epidemiological models suggest that if the prevalence continues to increase at the current rate, by 2015, one in 15 of the children born that year will be autistic. The increasing prevalence indicates that in addition to its genetic determinants there is an environmental component to the disease. Although there are different causes for the several diseases classified together under autism spectrum disorder, one subtype sometimes called severe/regressive autism may have a unique etiology. In some children, a viral co-infection, occurring at a critical age (around 12 months old), causes the already limited immune response to be further suppressed. The compromised immune response may allow a second virus to enter the brain, resulting in regressive autism. The following eight specific viral candidates were selected based on characteristics making them ideal for this model: herpes simplex virus (HSV91), varicella (VZV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), human herpes virus 6 (HHV96), JC virus, measles, mumps,and rubella. To assess this model, blood samples from children under the age of four recently diagnosed with severe/regressive autism will be analyzed to determine the frequency of co-infection. Analyses will include serological assays for antibody responses to these viruses, for viral genetic material, and for immune suppression. The goal of this work is to determine if viruses are the critical environmental factor responsible for producing severe/regressive autism. If successful, this work will allow better diagnostic tools for autism to be developed and perhaps even provide ways to prevent or limit the severity of the disease.




v, 112 pages : illustrations (some color). Honors project-Smith College, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 60-65)