American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology

The Frequency of Polymorphisms affecting Lead and Mercury Toxicity among Children with Autism

Shannon Rose, Stepan Melnyk, Alena Savenka, Amanda Hubanks, Stefanie Jernigan, Mario Cleves and S. Jill James

DOI : 10.3844/ajbbsp.2008.85.94

American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Volume 4, Issue 2

Pages 85-94

Abstract

Individual risk of developmental neurotoxicity with exposure to environmentally relevant levels of lead and mercury is likely to be determined by genetic susceptibility factors as well as additive interactions with other environmental pollutants, cumulative dose, and the developmental stage of exposure. The apparent increase in autism diagnosis over the last 15 years has enhanced interest in the possibility that an environmental trigger may be required to uncover the genetic liability in some cases of autism. The exquisite sensitivity of the developing brain and immune system to very low levels of lead and mercury give this hypothesis biologic plausibility. Delta aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD) and coproporphyin oxidase (CPOX) are two enzymes inhibited by low levels of lead and mercury, respectively. Common polymorphisms in these genes have been associated with elevated blood levels of lead and mercury and could potentially increase vulnerability to prenatal and/or postnatal developmental neurotoxicity. To explore this possibility, the frequency of the ALAD2 variant and variants in CPOX-4 and CPOX-5 were evaluated in 450 autistic children and 251 unaffected controls. A significant increase in the frequency of the ALAD2 allele was observed; however, contrary to our hypothesis, the frequency of both CPOX variants was significantly lower among the autistic children. Both lead and mercury induce oxidative stress by depleting the major intracellular antioxidant, glutathione. Among 242 autistic children with the variant ALAD2 allele, significant decreases in plasma glutathione and in the glutathione redox ratio were observed. These results suggest that children with autism who inherit the ALAD2 allele with lower glutathione levels may be at increased risk for lead toxicity during prenatal and postnatal neurodevelopment.

Copyright

© 2008 Shannon Rose, Stepan Melnyk, Alena Savenka, Amanda Hubanks, Stefanie Jernigan, Mario Cleves and S. Jill James. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.