Immunological significance of opioid peptide dysfunction in infantile autism

B. Marchetti, R. Scifo, N. Batticane, U. Scapagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The hypothesis of a putative opioid hyperactivity in autistic syndrome, coupled with the important involvement of opiate peptides in the control of neural and immune functions, prompted us to correlate alterations in plasma β-endorphin levels with a series of immune parameters. Moreover, some preliminary results on the effect of a therapy with the longacting opiate antagonist naltrexone, are mentioned. Twelve autistic patients ranging from 7 to 15 years old, diagnosed according to the DSM-III, entered a double-blind cross-over study. A group of age- and sex-matched mentally retarded, nonautistic children were studied as a control population. The immunological evaluation revealed important abnormalities in autistic children, characterized by CD4/CD8 inversion, increase in cytotoxic suppressor (Tc) cell and marked alterations of NK cell populations. Plasma endorphins showed a dimorphic pattern with high and low plasma concentrations. The possible correlation between the degree of neuroimmunological deficit and plasma endorphins are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-354
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Dysfunction
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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