Detection of autoantibodies to neural cells of the cerebellum in the plasma of subjects with autism spectrum disorders

Sharifia Wills, Maricel Cabanlit, Jeff Bennett, Paul Ashwood, David G Amaral, Judith A Van de Water

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of heterogeneous, behaviorally defined disorders characterized by disturbances in social interaction and communication, often with repetitive and stereotyped behavior. Previous studies have described the presence of antibodies to various neural proteins in autistic individuals as well as post-mortem evidence of neuropathology in the cerebellum. We examined plasma from children with ASD, as well as age-matched typically developing controls, for antibodies directed against human cerebellar protein extracts using Western blot analysis. In addition, the presence of cerebellar specific antibodies was assessed by immunohistochemical staining of sections from Macaca fascicularis monkey cerebellum. Western blot analysis revealed that 13/63 (21%) of subjects with ASD possessed antibodies that demonstrated specific reactivity to a cerebellar protein with an apparent molecular weight of approximately 52 kDa compared with only 1/63 (2%) of the typically developing controls (p = 0.0010). Intense immunoreactivity, to what was determined morphologically to be the Golgi cell of the cerebellum, was noted for 7/34 (21%) of subjects with ASD, compared with 0/23 of the typically developing controls. Furthermore, there was a strong association between the presence of antibodies reactive to the 52 kDa protein by Western blot with positive immunohistochemical staining of cerebellar Golgi cells in the ASD group (r = 0.76; p = 0.001) but not controls. These studies suggest that when compared with age-matched typically developing controls, children with ASD exhibit a differential antibody response to specific cells located in the cerebellum and this response may be associated with a protein of approximately 52 kDa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-74
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Autoantibody
  • Brain
  • Cerebellum
  • Golgi cell
  • Immune
  • Immunohistochemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems


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