Autism links to xmrv retrovirus - interesting theory
I was thinking about autism research since I find the science around the unsolved areas to be interesting and was especially interested in theories regarding viral infections and autism. My basic thoughts were relating to reading about how the polio virus operates to invade and compromise the central nervous system. The effects are so obvious in that paralysis and in many cases death occurs that it was easy to hunt for and find a viral cause. Measles is also CNS related in that it can cause specific CNS issues including auto-immune issues like acute measles encephalomyelitis. Again it is not so hard to find a viral cause to people who appear with spots and severe symptoms and often fatal symptoms. Measles and Polio are viral diseases that are hard to hide. There is plenty of speculation although mainly discredited around the link between vaccinations for MMR and Polio. The general issue is that autism is a developmental disorder that appears at the same time in development that the vaccines are given so causality is very difficult to establish.
But what if there are other viruses that impact children at the same developmental ages as Polio and Measles and they are ones that aren't near lethal or obvious? These viral infections of other viruses may be causal to autism by also affecting the CNS. I can hypothesize that the virus, if one existed, should be findable within a stable population with a clear autism diagnosis (non genetic) that has been hard to explain with pure genetics by looking for linkage between antibodies to a new or poorly characterized childhood virus and autism.
So I did a quick search on autism and viral causes and found something new and interesting. There is new information announced in October Nature and through NCI about a retro virus called XMRV being implicated in an adult disease called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS is a CNS disease where the patient is very lethargic because of some neurological issue. The potential that a virus causes the disorder is very interesting in it's potential to be similar to how polio and measles can reach and compromise CNS functions. Furthermore there have already been people who have linked CFS with autism in terms of treatment strategies and pathologies.
David Kirby reported in the Huffington Post on some forward thinking thoughts about links to autism from the researchers studying the linkage between XMRV and CFS in that there was a preliminary study and thoughts about how XMRV might operate in children with the phenotype of autism as well as some theories around viral activation when the immune system is operating in response to immunizations.
In all I find this line of inquiry of interest because it does lead to some rational outcomes and actions if the answer is that there are mechanisms by which autism and related disorders can be caused by a virus. Mainly that the viral infection can be tested for, possibly treated in a manner similar to HIV with anti-retroviral agents, and that a vaccine can be created to prevent new infections in the population, maybe there are genetic biomarkers that confer susceptibility or liability to the infection mechanisms causing certain damage and tests can help determine risk. This is all speculative but the speculation seems less off base with a little evidence.