Thioredoxin as a new diagnostic marker for pediatric autism?

Researchers based at the Linyi People’s Hospital in Shandong Province in China recently reported initial results based on the analysis of thioredoxin, an oxidative stress biomarker in cases of autism in children. Examining serum levels of thioredoxin (TRX) in 80 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with levels in 100 age and sex matched asymptomatic controls, Qing-biao Zhang and colleagues* concluded that group median levels of the compound were significantly higher in their participant group with autism. The authors further observed that TRX levels exceeding a certain threshold may serve as “an indicator for auxiliary diagnosis of autism” where serum levels above 10.6 ng/ml were associated with an approximate 15-fold increase in the likelihood of a diagnosis of autism based on their data.

Although further research is indicated to confirm any potential for TRX to aid the diagnosis of autism, this is not the first time that this compound has been linked to autism. Previous research** looking at various biological ‘detoxification’ pathways, including those related to glutathione which also performs similar functions to TRX and related compounds, had also concluded that there may be more to see when it comes to oxidative stress markers and autism. They also observed evidence of impaired antioxidant status in autism as potentially providing an important biomarker for the condition.

There is growing scientific interest in how oxidative stress – an imbalance between the body’s requirement and use of oxygen and how the body ensures that reactive oxygen species do not harm the body – may tie into cases of autism. Various other research groups have talked about links between oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction as potentially being important for [some] autism, although the precise mechanism(s) still remain the source of investigation. Other preliminary research has hinted that there may be ways to support antioxidant status in cases of autism, although again, further studies of efficacy and safety are required across the range of products put forward as potentially being useful.


* Zhang QB. et al. Thioredoxin: A novel, independent diagnosis marker in children with autism. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2014 Nov 26. pii: S0736-5748(14)00191-9.

** Al-Yafee YA. et al. Novel metabolic biomarkers related to sulfur-dependent detoxification pathways in autistic patients of Saudi Arabia. BMC Neurol. 2011 Nov 4;11:139.

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