Cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, is a watery fluid that flows in the ventricles within the brain and around the surface of the brain and spinal cord. Scientists recently found that CSF acts as a filtration system for byproducts of brain metabolism.

The study, which was published online Monday in the journal Biological Psychiatry, found that toddlers diagnosed with autism at age 2 had significantly higher amounts of cerebrospinal fluid at age 6- and 12-months, identified based on MRI scans.

“The CSF is easy to see on standard MRIs and points to a potential biomarker of autism before symptoms appear years later,” said Dr. Joseph Piven, director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina and co-senior author of the study. “We also think this finding provides a potential therapeutic target for a subset of people with autism.”

Cerebrospinal fluid filters out the byproducts of brain metabolism and replenishes itself four times per day.

The study looked at 343 infants, 221 of which were at high risk of developing autism because they had an older sibling with the disorder. Of these, 47 were diagnosed with autism at age 24 months. The infants diagnosed later had 18% more CSF at 6 months compared to those who didn’t have autism, according to the researchers.

Infants with 24% more cerebrospinal fluid at 6 months who were not later diagnosed went on to develop severe autism, according to the study. Researchers also determined that increased CSF levels were associated with poor gross motor skills.

“We know that CSF is very important for brain health, and our data suggest that in this large subset of kids, the fluid is not flowing properly,” said Dr. Mark Shen, lead author of the study. “We don’t expect there’s a single mechanism that explains the cause of the condition for every child. But we think improper CSF flow could be one important mechanism.”

Increased cerebrospinal fluid predicted which babies would later be diagnosed with autism with nearly 70% accuracy.

Source: Science Daily

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