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In search of immune cellular sources of abnormal cytokines in the blood in autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of case-control studies

journal contribution
submitted on 2024-04-22, 08:20 and posted on 2024-04-22, 08:21 authored by Wared Nour-Eldine, Samia M. Ltaief, Nimshitha P. Abdul Manaph, Abeer R. Al-Shammari

Abnormal cytokine levels in circulating blood have been repeatedly reported in autism; however, the underlying cause remains unclear. This systematic review aimed to investigate cytokine levels in peripheral blood compartments and identify their potential immune cellular sources in subjects with autism through comparison with controls. We conducted an electronic database search (PubMed, Scopus, ProQuest Central, Ovid, SAGE Journals, and Wiley Online Library) from inception (no time limits) to July 9, 2020, and identified 75 relevant articles. Our qualitative data synthesis focused on results consistently described in at least three independent studies, and we reported the results according to the PRISMA protocol. We found that compared with controls, in subjects with autism, cytokines IL-6, IL-17, TNF-α, and IL-1β increased in the plasma and serum. We also identified monocytes, neutrophils, and CD4+ T cells as potential sources of these elevated cytokines in autism. Cytokines IFN-γ, TGF-β, RANTES, and IL-8 were increased in the plasma/serum of subjects with autism, and IFN-γ was likely produced by CD4+ T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, although conflicting evidence is present for IFN-γ and TGF-β. Other cytokines—IL-13, IL-10, IL-5, and IL-4—were found to be unaltered in the plasma/serum and post-stimulated blood immune cells in autistic individuals as compared with controls. The frequencies of T cells, monocytes, B cells, and NK cells were unchanged in subjects with autism as opposed to controls, suggesting that abnormal cytokines were unlikely due to altered cell numbers but might be due to altered functioning of these cells in autism. Our results support existing studies of abnormal cytokines in autism and provide comprehensive evidence of potential cellular sources of these altered cytokines in the context of autism.

Systematic Review Registration, identifier [CRD42020205224].

Other Information

Published in: Frontiers in Immunology
See article on publisher's website:



  • English



Publication Year

  • 2022

License statement

This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University
  • Qatar Biomedical Research Institute - HBKU
  • Neurological Disorders Research Center - QBRI

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