Autism Longitudinal Data Project * finds that cytokines (leptin, adiponectin) and rapid growth during infancy are associated with ASD risk

December 13, 2018

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded Autism Longitudinal Data Project (ALDP) which leverages the Boston Birth Cohort (BBC), led by Dr. Xiaobin Wang. The BBC is a prospective birth cohort study on pre- and peri-natal determinants of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental disabilities. The BBC is predominantly an urban low-income minority birth cohort consisting of over 8,600 mother-infant pairs and is one of the largest U.S. prospective birth cohort studies on ASD and other developmental disabilities.

The October 2018 issue of Autism Research ( published a study by the ALDP investigators who examined the association between early life growth, leptin (a proinflammatory cytokine that plays a role in energy homeostasis) and ASD risk. This study was conducted in a sample of 822 subjects from the BBC. ASD was defined from diagnostic codes in electronic medical records. The main findings from this study were that 1) extremely rapid weight gain during infancy, and 2) higher early childhood leptin levels before autism diagnosis were associated with a greater ASD risk. Further, the study showed that early childhood leptin indirectly mediated the relationship between infancy rapid weight gain and subsequent risk of ASD.

Another study by the ALDP investigators was published in July 2018 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders ( to assess the association between adiponectin (a cytokine produced by adipose tissue that can counter leptin) and ASD risk. This study included 847 subjects and used electronic medical records to identify ASD cases. The study showed that cord adiponectin was inversely associated with ASD risk and this was independent of preterm birth, early childhood adiponectin and other known ASD risk factors. Similarly, early childhood adiponectin, assessed prior to ASD diagnosis, was also associated with lower risk of ASD. However, this association was less robust and weakened after adjusting for cord adiponectin, indicating the relative importance of cord adiponectin in ASD risk.

Findings from these studies lend further support for the early life origins of ASD and potential role of metabolic pathways in ASD; and if further confirmed, provide a basis to further explore whether the combination of infancy growth pattern and biomarkers such as leptin and adiponectin can help predict and prevent ASD earlier; and may serve as molecular targets for developing novel interventions.

Note: The Autism Longitudinal Data Project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant UJ2MC31074 Single Investigator Innovation Program (SIIP). The information, content and/or conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.