By Teresa Conrick
With 1 in 3 seniors dying with Alzheimer’s and 1 in 50 children now being diagnosed with autism, studying these patients should be crucial in both preventing new cases and helping millions of people afflicted now.
There are parallels in much of the research being published about both autism and Alzheimer’s. We are told the former is “neurodevelopmental” while the latter is “neurodegenerative,” but increasing studies show that both are medical consequences of some type of assault on the immune system.
The Microglia in Both Autism and Alzheimer’s
Microglia, the immune cells of the brain, are activated in both autism and Alzheimer’s -- “There, they engulf debris as well as unwanted and dying cells. At the same time, they contribute to brain inflammation by releasing immune proteins called cytokines and other proteins that may be toxic to the brain.”
“Studies from several laboratories have demonstrated the ability of microglia to sense and respond to a wide variety of pathogens capable of colonizing the CNS including bacterial, viral, and fungal species.”
Microglia also have another function:
“The human brain is an organ of staggering complexity, with hundreds of billions of neurons and glial cells forming something like a quadrillion connections, or synapses …Redundant connections are then removed in a process called pruning.
We now know that pruning occurs well into adulthood but exactly how the brain disposes of its unwanted connections was unclear. A team of Italian researchers now reveals the surprising mechanism by which pruning occurs – it is carried out by cells called microglia, which patrol the developing brain and engulf unwanted synapses as if they were invading microbes…
…Thus, the developing brain treats unwanted synapses as if they were unwanted invaders. It dispatches microglial cells to survey the state of synapses in their surroundings and to dispose of the ones that are wired incorrectly or superfluous. Abnormal neural connectivity has been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, so deficiencies in microglial surveillance may contribute to such conditions.”
Beta-amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) in Both Alzheimer’s and Autism
The Alzheimer's disease-associated amyloid beta-protein is an antimicrobial peptide:
“The amyloid beta-protein (Abeta) is believed to be the key mediator of Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology. Abeta is most often characterized as an incidental catabolic byproduct that lacks a normal physiological role….Here, we provide data supporting an in vivo function for Abeta as an antimicrobial peptide (AMP)… Findings reveal that Abeta exerts antimicrobial activity against eight common and clinically relevant microorganisms….
“Children with severe autism and aggression expressed secreted beta-amyloid precursor protein at two or more times the levels of children without autism and up to four times more than children with mild autism.”
“Secreted beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) has been detected in elevated levels in the plasma of about 60% of autistic children….Brain neurons in cortex and cerebellar cortex and dentate nucleus in autism in the post-developmental period of life accumulate intracellular N-terminally truncated Aβ42. This may result from excessive processing of APP….”
The Microbiome in Both Autism and Alzheimer’s
Another similarity is the microbiome or microbiota. I wrote about that and autism,
“Some research suggests the microbiota may also be implicated in neurologic conditions. There are multiple interfaces where the microbiota could impact our nervous system…The microbiota also produces metabolites that are absorbed into the bloodstream, and some of these metabolites can cross the blood–brain barrier…..research has suggested that ASDs may be related to an altered microbiota”
And now we see the research also making the connection to Alzheimer’s and the stew of microbes in the gut:
Alzheimer's disease and the microbiome
“Firstly, the microbiome of the human GI tract is the largest reservoir of microbes in the body, containing about 1014 microorganisms; over 99% of microbiota in the gut are anaerobic bacteria, with fungi, protozoa, archaebacteria and other microorganisms making up the remainder. There is currently an expanding interest in the ability of intestinal bacteria to influence neuro-immune functions well beyond the GI tract….Indeed, secretory products of the GI microbiome and translocation of these signaling molecules via the lymphatic and systemic circulation throughout the CNS are just beginning to be identified.”
Mitochondria in Both Autism and Alzheimer’s
Interestingly, that study goes on to discuss mitochondria in Alzheimer’s, another connection to autism in that mitochondria dysfunction, implicated in much autism research and to the well-known Hannah Poling vaccine case , where the US government conceded vaccines caused a toddler’s regression into autism:
“Since mitochondria are believed to originate from bacteria via endosymbiotic relationships that formed very early in the evolutionary history of eukaryotes, cross-reactivity of mitochondria and immunological responses to intestinal bacterial constituents could have deleterious effects on mitochondrial function through some form of molecular mimicry; this is partially evidenced by the inflammatory basal ganglia disorder Sydenham's chorea, rheumatic fever and the link to the facultative anaerobe Streptococcus”
That sounds familiar to PANDAS and PANS, another immune system disorder on the rise – and why?
Here is Paul A. Offit, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, discussing molecular mimicry:
“Several infections cause autoimmune diseases. For example, Borrelia burgdorferi causes chronic arthritis42 and group A β-hemolytic streptococcus causes rheumatic heart disease.43 Theoretically, if infections can trigger autoimmune diseases, modified forms of infections (ie, immunizations) might also cause these diseases…… influenza vaccine appears to be a plausible candidate for molecular mimicry in the central nervous system.”
Additionally, most influenza vaccines continue to contain Thimerosal, the vaccine mercury.
Mercury in Molecular Mimicry and Autoimmunity
There is much research showing the dangers of acute mercury toxicity yet there is increasing evidence showing how the immune system takes a huge hit. Molecular mimicry appears to be part of that:
“Current discussions about the toxicity of THI [THIMEROSAL] and other organomercury compounds are either centered around effects like autism or the exact functions of molecular mimicry, by which mercury species are suspected to be transported in the human body.5”
“Molecular Mimicry in Mercury Toxicology”
“Another major mechanism by which metals traverse cell membranes and produce cell injury is by forming complexes whose overall structures mimic those of endogenous molecules.
"Low concentrations of HgCl(2) affect immune function in human cells by dysregulation of cytokine signaling pathways, with the potential to influence diverse health outcomes such as susceptibility to infectious disease or risk of autoimmunity."
"The different forms of mercury differ in the type and range of immune disorders, and ethylmercury (thimerosal) and inorganic mercury are similar in that they cause systemic autoimmunity, characterized by a marked increase of IgE and systemic immune-complex deposits"
"Hg was shown to actively increase the reactivity of the immune system in rodents. This immunostimulation led to the development of immunotoxic problems such as allergeric responses and autoimmune disease." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3173748/
Antibodies, Autoantibodies and Anti-Nuclear Antibodies
Add Alzheimer’s disease to the list of autoimmune diseases : “Thus, it is possible that the mere presence of anti-neuronal autoantibodies in the serum, whose importance had been previously dismissed, may be without pathological consequence until there is a BBB dysfunction to allow the deleterious effects of these autoantibodies access on their targets. Hence, these observations suggest autoimmunity-induced cell death in AD.”
In autism: In another example, antibodies present in the serum of mothers of autistic children have been suggested to contribute to autism53,54. Some mothers of autistic children have antibodies that bind brain tissue; when these antibodies were administered to gestating mice and monkeys, they caused abnormal behaviour in their offspring55,56.
We suggest that as more studies of the effects of maternal antibodies on the fetal brain are carried out, it will be important to keep in mind that the same antibody might have different effects on fetal and adult neurons, either because of differences in antigen expression and accessibility or because of differences in antibody-induced signalling cascades….Moreover, studies in rodents indicate that the effects of fetal brain exposure to toxins might not be evident in young pups or even in adults until the animal experiences a stressor, such as ischaemia, to the CNS, at which time the neuropsychiatric effects of the toxin exposure might be revealed57. So, antibodies that affect fetal brain development could result in no clinical symptoms until there is an insult to the CNS. These potential effects of maternal antibodies on fetal brain development might be difficult to diagnose because of the variable time delay before the effects are manifested and the possibility that they never become clinically evident in some individuals.”
There has been no research on the effects of influenza vaccines as a culprit regarding these maternal antibodies in autism, especially those containing the vaccine mercury, Thimerosal.
Similarities in biomarkers and research paint a picture of a sick immune system in both autism and Alzheimer’s. Microbes, infections, microglia activation, amyloid beta-protein, antibodies and a feasible "insult to the CNS" are domino effects that sure look like the pathway to disease. That fact should be guiding research, treatments and prevention. If vaccines can be the catalyst, then their role as hit men on the immune system can no longer be ignored. This sentence appears in a new study showing elevated anti-nuclear antibodies in a portion of older adults vaccinated with a flu shot. If it's true, honest discussions and alerts need to happen from a doctor to patient level but also on a global level.
“The relationship between the response to influenza virus vaccination and autoantibody levels is a major source of concern among physicians because of the fear that vaccination might increase the risk of autoimmune responses or diseases.”
Teresa Conrick is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.