International Child Development Resource Center, 3800 W. Eau Gallie Blvd., Suite 105,
Melbourne, FL 32934
Abstract: Classical mitochondrial diseases occur in a subset of individuals with autism and are usually caused by genetic anomalies or mitochondrial respiratory pathway deficits. However, in many cases of autism, there is evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction (MtD) without the classic features associated with mitochondrial disease. MtD appears to be more common in autism and presents with less severe signs and symptoms. It is not associated with discernible mitochondrial pathology in muscle biopsy specimens despite objective evidence of lowered mitochondrial functioning. Exposure to environmental toxins is the likely etiology for MtD in autism. This dysfunction then contributes to a number of diagnostic symptoms and comorbidities observed in autism including: cognitive impairment, language deficits, abnormal energy metabolism, chronic gastrointestinal problems, abnormalities in fatty acid oxidation, and increased oxidative stress. MtD and oxidative stress may also explain the high male to female ratio found in autism due to increased male vulnerability to these dysfunctions.
Biomarkers for mitochondrial dysfunction have been identified, but seem widely under-utilized despite available therapeutic interventions. Nutritional supplementation to decrease oxidative stress along with factors to improve reduced glutathione, as well as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) represent supported and rationale approaches. The underlying pathophysiology and autistic symptoms of affected individuals would be expected to either improve or cease worsening once effective treatment for MtD is implemented.