This post was written by the study’s principal author, Dr. Stephen Dager. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
A new study by a team of University of Washington researchers investigated the role of brain mitochondrial disease in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Children with ASD, in comparison to children with other developmental disorders and typically developing children, were studied longitudinally between 3 and 10 years of age. A combination of MRI and magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging were used to test for structural and brain tissue chemical markers that are found with brain mitochondrial dysfunction. The study found no evidence for brain mitochondrial dysfunction in ASD. Importantly, there was no evidence for early or progressive brain mitochondrial dysfunction underlying symptom expression in ASD.
Prior work at the University of Washington and Harvard University using similar imaging techniques has led to the detection of subtle evidence for brain mitochondrial dysfunction in other disorders, such as Bipolar Disorder. Although ‘the absence of proof is not proof of absence’, this study found no evidence to support a primary role for brain mitochondrial dysfunction underlying ASD. As a consequence, these findings suggest that autism research resources would be more usefully focused on other possible causes of ASD. These findings also put into question the benefits of some currently popular treatments for ASD, such as hyperbaric oxygen.