Leukemia/Leukaemia is cancer that begins in the bone marrow and result in high numbers of abnormal white blood cells.
I received a comment on this blog a long time ago from a parent whose child had initially responded well to some of the autism therapies suggested on this blog. Later on all the therapies stopped working. That child also has leukemia.
We now know this is a common event when you start treating autism, some comorbidity arises that blocks the effects of those therapies. In my son’s case it is a simple pollen allergy, but it can be all kinds of inflammatory conditions such as colitis, IBS, IBD, GERD, celiac disease, juvenile arthritis, mastocytosis etc. This list goes on, but now I know why it includes leukemia.
I do not consider epilepsy, or indeed cognitive dysfunction, as comorbidities. Epilepsy is periodic extreme neuronal hyper-excitability, whereas in much autism there is chronic neuronal hyper-excitability. Not surprisingly, chronic neuronal hyper-excitability can develop to periodic extreme neuronal hyper-excitability. So I see epilepsy as a natural progression from childhood autism, but one that perhaps could and should be prevented.
Earlier on writing this blog I thought that genetics and cancer pathways would be beyond its scope, but in apparent absence of anyone much else publicizing the connections with autism I revised my view.
It has been known since 1930 that leukemia is comorbid with Down Syndrome (DS). DS is caused by caused by the presence of all, or part of a third copy of chromosome 21 this leads to over expression of 300+ genes. DS is usually easy to diagnose based on physical appearance . The gene over-expression frequently leads to autistic behaviors and somewhat less frequently to various types of leukemia and in later years early onset Alzheimer’s. The good news is that DS children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and in particular the acute megakaryocytic leukemia (AMkL) subtype, have exceptionally high cure rates.
The particular gene that is over-expressed in DS and can cause leukemia is called HMGN1.
DS is increasingly rare in Europe, but quite common in the US due to differences in parental choice regarding the termination of pregnancies identified as high risk of Down Syndrome.
I think it only fair to consider leukemia as a possible comorbidity of autism, since may people with DS do indeed exhibit autistic behaviors.
There is no quality data to say how common leukemia is in non-DS autism.
Leukemia and Cytokines IL-6 and IL-10
I do consider the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 to be public enemy number one of autism, while the anti-inflammatory cytokine is a potential friend.
There are different types of Leukemia, but it appears that IL-6 and IL-10 play a key role and at least in acute myeloid leukemia can predict the outcome. Generally speaking leukemia is associated with elevated IL-6 and in particular when there is a relapse.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) blast cells frequently produce interleukin-6 (IL-6)
“Serum levels of Interleukin-6 can be used as prognostic serum markers at diagnosis of adults acute myeloid leukemia and it could be used as follow up parameters for early detection of relapse stage”
Cytokine profiles in acute myeloid leukemia patients at diagnosis: survival is inversely correlated with IL-6 and directly correlated with IL-10 levels
An aberrant production of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TNF-α and the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 is observed in AML patients. Low levels of IL-6 and high levels of IL-10 represent favorable prognostic factors for survival in AML patients. These results support the idea that cytokine deregulation may be useful as a marker for predicting clinical evolution in AML patients.
So we can infer that a leukemia relapse will likely lead to a worsening of autism driven by an elevation in the level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6. This would account for why the autism drugs “stopped working” in the case of our reader.
We could then ponder that a therapy that reduces IL-6 and increases IL-10 might help keep some types of leukemia in remission.
This is altering the Th1/Th2 balance which was the target of our reader Alli from Switzerland who did decide to spend many hours reading the oncology research to understand all those cellular signaling pathways.
For those interested in why DS increases the risk of leukemia, scientists at the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston have figured this out, at least in the case of one common form of Leukemia.
If only some more of the clever people studied autism.