A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2018 | Number 1, Volume 32

Measurement of aluminum in brain tissues from ASD donors yields surprising results

The first-ever measurement of aluminum levels in the brain tissue of individuals with ASD has revealed that these levels are “some of the highest values for aluminum in human brain tissue yet recorded.” 

Matthew Mold and colleagues used two methods to measure the aluminum in postmortem brain samples from individuals with ASD: 

• The researchers used a technique called transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry to measure the aluminum in samples of cortex from 4 males and 1 female with ASD. 

• They also used aluminum-selective fluorescence microscopy to identify aluminum deposits in the brain tissues of 3 females and 7 males with ASD. 

The researchers report that the aluminum content of brain tissue in the ASD samples was extremely high. While there was significant variability, they say, “the mean aluminum content for each lobe across all 5 individuals [included in the spectrometry analysis] was towards the higher end of all previous (historical) measurements of brain aluminum content, including iatrogenic disorders such as dialysis encephalopathy [a serious  condition caused by aluminum overload during dialysis treatment].” All four male donors whose samples were analyzed by spectrometry had higher aluminum levels than the female donor. 

The researchers add, “What discriminates these data from other analyses of brain aluminum in other diseases is the age of the ASD donors. Why, for example, would a 15-year-old boy have such a high content of aluminum in [his] brain tissues? There are no comparative data in the scientific literature, the closest being similarly high data for a 42-year-old male with familial Alzheimer’s disease.” 

The results of the fluorescence microscopy were also remarkable. “While aluminum was imaged associated with neurons,” the researchers say, “it appeared to be present intracellularly in microglia-like cells and other inflammatory non-neuronal cells in the meninges, vasculature, grey and white matter.” Aluminum deposits were more prevalent in males than in females. 

The researchers conclude, “The fact that we found aluminum in every sample of brain tissue, frozen or fixed, does suggest very strongly that individuals with a diagnosis of ASD have extraordinarily high levels of aluminum in their brain tissue and that this aluminum is pre-eminently associated with non-neuronal cells including microglia and other inflammatory monocytes.”

Mold and colleagues say the aluminum levels seen in the samples from individuals with ASD were toward the higher end of “all previous measurements of brain aluminum content.”


Citations

“Aluminium in brain tissue in autism,” Matthew Mold, Dorcas Umar, Andrew King, and Christopher Exley, Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, March 2018, pages 76-82 (available free online). Address:  Matthew Mold, the Birchall Centre, Lennard-Jones Laboratories, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, United Kingdom.