International Child Development Resource Center


May 19-23, 2002 Salt Lake City, Utah

102nd General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology May 19-23, 2002, Salt Lake City, Utah

Press Release:

Measles of MMR may cause autoimmunity in autism

(Session 134, Paper V-5)

Researchers at Utah State University who are studying autism as an autoimmune disorder have discovered a unique or inappropriate immune response to measles subunit of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in many children with the disorder. The findings, to be reported on May 21st at the 102nd General meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in Salt Lake City, Utah, provide new insight into the cause of autism and suggest that autoimmunity may one day serve as a basis of treatment for autistic children and adults.

The study found a strong correlation between measles/MMR antibodies and brain autoantibodies in autistic children. The normal healthy children did not harbor these antibodies. All children in the study had their MMR immunization but none had a natural measles rash. Moreover, the paired analysis of serum and spinal fluid (CSF) also showed this correlation. The new evidence suggests that the MMR vaccine might trigger autoimmunity by bringing on an “atypical” measles infection that does not produce a typical measles rash but causes neurological symptoms in autistic children.

Autism is an idiopathic brain disorder of unknown cause and etiology. It affects brain function, causing behavioral manifestations: impairment of verbal and nonverbal communication; difficulties with social relationships and social understanding; and repetitive, inflexible, sometimes bizarre behavior and resistance to change. The cause of autism is not well known or established, and there is no cure or therapy available for treating people with the disorder.

Approximately 1.5 million Americans, mostly children, suffer from autism spectrum disorders, which also include 600,000 children with full-blown autism. Up to 80% of them have autoimmune reaction to a brain protein known as myelin basic protein (MBP) that most likely is triggered by MMR-derived measles strain, according to the Principal Investigator of the study Dr. Singh.

Vijendra Singh, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Immunology Research in Department of Biology and Biotechnology Center at Utah State University, originally identified an “autoimmune subset” of autism. For this study, he collaborated with Dr. Jeff Bradstreet of Palm Bay, Florida, to conduct a paired analysis of serum and CSF for the autoimmune markers. Ryan Jensen, an undergraduate biology student, contributed to some of the laboratory work under the direct mentorship of Dr. Singh.

The study was supported, without any conflict of interest, by grants from the Dougherty Jr., Lattner Jr., Mellanby Jr., and Bhare foundations in the United States.

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), an association of 40,000 microbiologists, immunologists, virologists and health professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.

Last Modified: May 7, 2002 Email: [email protected] Copyright © 2002 American Society for MicrobiologyAll rights reserved