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Molecular Mimicry

Serological association of measles virus and human herpesvirus-6 with brain autoantibodies in autism.
Published: 1998
SYNOPSIS

A high percentage of autistic children with positive antibodies to the measles and/or human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6) also have autoantibodies to brain components. Might the MMR vaccine be an early event in brain autoimmunity?

CITATION

Singh VK, Lin SX, Yang VC. Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1998 Oct;89(1):105-8.

SUMMARY

Environmental exposures to toxins as well as viral infections are known to be triggers for autoimmunity. Individuals with autism suffer from a variety of immunological abnormalities with 55-70% having autoantibodies to brain antigens that include myelin basic protein (MBP), neuron-axon filament proteins (NAFP), and serotonin receptor. Many parents have reported the onset of autism soon after receiving a vaccine for the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and/or diptheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT). The authors point out that both measles virus and human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6) can manifest neurologic sequelae, show molecular mimicry with MBP and NAFP, and are associated with demyelination. To understand a possible association of viruses to brain autoimmunity, these researchers investigated virus serology of the measles virus and HHV-6. Children diagnosed with autism using the DSM-IIIR criteria were compared to normal controls. Both the controls and the children with autism had a high percentage of positive titers to measles as well as HHV-6 antibodies. According to the authors this was to be expected given that, “A high proportion (78%) of general populations is known to have positive titers of HHV-6 antibody.” The high percentage of measles antibody titers (85%) in children with autism was also expected. There is a high rate of seroconversion post MMR vaccination and none of the children had a history of exposure to the wild-type measles infection. An interesting finding was revealed when comparing the virus serology to brain autoantibodies. Among the control group, there were no brain autoantibodies found in any participant. However, among autistic subjects:

“approximately 90% of measles-IgG-positive sera also had anti-MBP”

“73% of measles-IgG- positive sera also had anti-NAFP”

“84% of HHV-6-IgG-positive sera also had anti-MBP”

“72% of HHV-6-IgG-positive sera also had anti-NAFP.”

“the higher the virus antibody titer the greater the chance of brain autoantibody”

The report closing by stating, “In conclusion, we suggest that while the etiology is not known, it is quite instructive to consider environmental factors, for example measles virus and HHV-6, as etiological agents linked to autoimmunity in autism.”

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