The whole mitochondria/autism thing is pretty fascinating. A Dr Shoffner presented the results of a study he conducted (‘Mitochondrial Dysfunction May Play a Role in Autism Spectrum Disorders Etiology‘ – its free registration at Medscape to read the whole thing) in which he noted:
a retrospective analysis of 41 children with ASD who were being evaluated for suspected mitochondrial disease showed that 32 (78%) had defects in skeletal muscle oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) enzyme function and 29 of 39 (74%) harbored abnormalities in the OXPHOS proteins.
The numbers kind of leap out at you don’t they?
Except, we need to remember that this is a heavily skewed population. As SL has pointed out:
I can’t state it enough: this is NOT a random sample of autistic individuals. These are children who were already suspected of having a mitochondrial disorder.
Which is a bit like looking for wet kids at a swimming pool. It doesn’t really tell us anything about autism aetiology. It tells us that some kids who are autistic also have mitochondrial dysfunction. Reading anything concrete into that is just like reading anything concrete into the fact that autism symptoms become clear around the time vaccines are administered – correlation does not equal causation after all.
Dr Shoffner is unavailable right now but I have dropped an email off with him asking if he would be kind enough to make his presentation available. We’ll see.
In the meantime it should be noted that there are other highly respected mitochondrial researchers who are not pleased with the way that Dr’s Poling and Shoffner have conducted themselves. A researcher I am talking with commented:
….more harm than good has been done this time by Shoffner’s and Poling’s whipping up controversy but not providing the hard data that everyone needs….. Therefore, again, I ask that you serve the public good by not trying to ferret out partial data and incomplete statements from me or others, trust that nothing is being hidden by anyone, and wait for the full story to appear in a medical journal……offer assurance to your readers that the true story will be told and that misstatements of the legions of the uninformed and conspiracy mongers who are pursuing their own selfish aims will ultimately be revealed.
Strong words from someone who clearly feels that Shoffner and Poling are doing what they’re doing solely to be controversial.
So that seems to be the state of research regarding a mitochondrial aetiology for autism. Patchy and sensationalist with a clear agenda to serve personal interests.
However, as we all know, there are a group of people who want to take the autism/mito thing one step further and blame vaccines for triggering an occluded mitochondrial dysfunction which in turn causes autism. Its like a minor league domino effect with only three domino’s. Again, it reminds me very much of the early days of the thiomersal/MMR hypotheses – look for a direct cause and when one can’t be found, look for an indirect one and twist, twist, twist until you can argue for one.
Our old friend Ginger Taylor has, for example, been hopping from online newspaper to online newspaper saying in their comments section that:
The debate is over. Our highest health authorities have stated that vaccines are a cause of autism.
When in fact no such statement exists. Ginger is arguing that ‘features of autism’ is the same as a diagnosis of autism. Back in the real world of autism diagnostics, that is not the case.
So – what can we do to examine the hypothesis that thimerosal triggers mitochondrial dysfunction which in turn triggers autism? We could search for papers that mention thimerosal and mitochondria. When we do we get:
1: Yel L, Brown LE, Su K, Gollapudi S, Gupta S.
Thimerosal induces neuronal cell apoptosis by causing cytochrome c and apoptosis-inducing factor release from mitochondria.
Int J Mol Med. 2005 Dec;16(6):971-7.
PMID: 16273274 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
2: Humphrey ML, Cole MP, Pendergrass JC, Kiningham KK.
Mitochondrial mediated thimerosal-induced apoptosis in a human neuroblastoma cell line (SK-N-SH).
Neurotoxicology. 2005 Jun;26(3):407-16.
PMID: 15869795 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
3: Makani S, Gollapudi S, Yel L, Chiplunkar S, Gupta S.
Biochemical and molecular basis of thimerosal-induced apoptosis in T cells: a major role of mitochondrial pathway.
Genes Immun. 2002 Aug;3(5):270-8.
PMID: 12140745 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
4: Collin HB, Carroll N.
In vivo effects of thimerosal on the rabbit corneal endothelium: an ultrastructural study.
Am J Optom Physiol Opt. 1987 Feb;64(2):123-30.
PMID: 3826286 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
5: Collin HB.
Ultrastructural changes to corneal stromal cells due to ophthalmic preservatives.
Acta Ophthalmol (Copenh). 1986 Feb;64(1):72-8.
PMID: 3083641 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
6: Van Horn DL, Edelhauser HF, Prodanovich G, Eiferman R, Pederson HF.
Effect of the ophthalmic preservative thimerosal on rabbit and human corneal endothelium.
Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1977 Apr;16(4):273-80.
Of these, studies 4, 5 and 6 are not relevant – they’re talking about eyes. Its studies 1, 2 and 3 on this list that are articulatory relevant to us in our search for papers touching on vaccines>mito>autism. If anyone else finds any, please let me know in the comments section.
Now, these three studies are not supportive of the vaccines>mito connection. Why? They use frankly massive concentrations of thiomersal, way beyond whats contained in a vaccine. A quote from a scientist about these studies:
all of the studies used “non-physiological” concentrations of thimerosal – concentrations that would not be reached even by giving three or four (or even ten or twenty) high-thimerosal-containing vaccines to a low-weight and/or premature infant.
You can kill mitochondria with glutamate (an amino acid found in chicken soup, among other things), salt, oxygen, and a number of other things, if you use ENOUGH of it. The studies are not relevant…..because the concentrations used are so high – by a factor of at least 100.
So we seem to be back to square one. Whilst the evidence for a mitochondrial aetiology for autism is of mixed provenance and yet seems probable at some level, the evidence for thiomersal and autism-related mitochondrial dysfunction is not good.