Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Donated Tissue Makes New Findings Possible

Researcher thanks Autism Speaks Autism Tissue Program and its donors for enabling her study of brain inflammation, cell damage and antioxidants.

Guest post by Jill James, PhD, director of the Autism Metabolic Genomics Laboratory, at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Postmortem brain tissue is one of the most precious donations a family can make. I am forever grateful to families who make this remarkable gift. In fact, the research that I do has been made possible by Autism Speaks Autism Tissue Program (ATP), which makes brain tissue available to qualified scientists studying autism.

To help illustrate the importance of these donations, please see today’s news story on the findings we published in Translational Psychiatry. We also had the opportunity to present our results at the Autism Speaks National Conference for Families and Professionals, earlier this month.  

In this study, we found lowered levels of the antioxidant glutathione in the postmortem brain tissues of persons who had autism. These results support our previous findings of oxidative stress and damage in plasma and immune cells from children with autism. Together, this suggests that damaging oxidation may be pervasive in autism. Further, it may be that markers of oxidative stress outside the brain may allow us to gauge oxidative stress in the brain of living persons with autism. 

Taken together, these results suggest that a genetic predisposition to insufficient antioxidant protection in the brain may contribute to autism risk. At the least, this may be true in the presence of certain stresses during brain development.

In recent years, research has made it increasingly clear that autism can result from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental stress during critical periods of early brain development. Our research supports this line of thinking.

These findings represent a small step forward. But we see great potential to deepen our understanding of the underlying biology of autism in ways that may lead to new methods for preventing and treating it.

I can’t emphasize enough how much this scientific progress depends on the support of families such as yours – whether it’s research dollars raised at an Autism Speaks Walk or a post-mortem donation of precious brain tissue. We could not do what we do without your support. Thank you.

Editor's note: Learn more about participating in Autism Speaks Autism Tissue program here and a wide range of other autism studies hereExplore more of the studies Autism Speaks is funding through the grant search, and find more news and perspective on the Autism Speaks Science page.