What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates, interacts with others, and experiences the world around them. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and behaviors that can vary greatly in severity and presentation from one individual to another.


Some common features of autism spectrum disorder include:


  • Social communication challenges: Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, such as understanding and using language, gestures, and facial expressions. People with autism may have trouble initiating or maintaining conversations, understanding social cues, or engaging in reciprocal communication.


  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors: Individuals with autism may engage in repetitive movements or behaviors, such as rocking, hand-flapping, or repeating words or phrases (echolalia). They may also develop intense interests in specific topics or objects and may engage in rituals or routines that are rigid and resistant to change.


  • Sensory sensitivities: Many individuals with autism have heightened sensitivity or aversion to sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, certain textures, or strong smells. Others may seek out sensory stimulation or engage in self-stimulatory behaviors (stimming) to regulate their sensory experiences.


  • Difficulty with social interaction: People with autism may struggle to understand social norms, navigate social situations, or establish and maintain relationships with others. They may have difficulty understanding and responding to the emotions, perspectives, and intentions of others.


Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong condition that typically becomes apparent in early childhood, although it may be diagnosed later in life. The exact cause of autism is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.


What is the relationship between ASD and oxidative stress?

There is a potential link between autism and oxidative stress, although the exact mechanisms remain unclear.


  • Oxidative Stress Biomarkers: Some studies have reported abnormalities in markers of oxidative stress in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These markers include increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), lipid peroxidation products, and decreased levels of antioxidants such as glutathione. These findings suggest that oxidative stress may be dysregulated in individuals with ASD.


  • Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Mitochondria, the cellular organelles responsible for energy production, are susceptible to oxidative damage. Some studies have suggested that mitochondrial dysfunction and impaired energy metabolism may be implicated in autism. Dysfunctional mitochondria can lead to increased ROS production and oxidative stress, potentially contributing to the pathophysiology of ASD.


  • Neuroinflammation: Oxidative stress can trigger neuroinflammatory responses in the brain, characterized by activation of microglia (the immune cells of the central nervous system) and release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Neuroinflammation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of autism, and oxidative stress may play a role in mediating these inflammatory processes.


  • Environmental Exposures: Environmental factors such as air pollution, heavy metals, pesticides, and maternal stress have been implicated in the development of autism. Many of these environmental exposures can induce oxidative stress and contribute to neurodevelopmental abnormalities associated with ASD.


  • Genetic Factors: Genetic mutations and copy number variations (CNVs) have been identified in individuals with autism, some of which are involved in oxidative stress pathways. For example, mutations in genes encoding antioxidant enzymes or regulators of redox homeostasis may disrupt cellular defenses against oxidative stress and increase susceptibility to ASD.