Understanding Neuro-Immune Dysfunction
Neuro-Immune Dysfunction is an intended medical classification for illnesses or disorders that may currently have psychiatric or developmental labels but are actually caused by a complex neuro-immune, complex viral, autoimmune-like illness affecting cognitive and body functions in children and adults. Some of these diseases are labeled as; Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), ADD or ADHD, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/CFIDS), as well as other multiple related disorders. Many classic autoimmune diseases may have a treatable neuro-immune dysfunction component.
In past neurological studies of autism, little attention was paid to immune and neuroglial activity. This research finally is being done and numerous studies have objectively shown the actual pathology in the brains of people with autism. Markers found in patients with autism, as well as with ADHD, CFS, and other related disorders, occur in immune system components.
One of the most important studies found evidence of neuroglial and innate immune system activation in the brain tissue and the cerebrospinal fluid of persons diagnosed with autism, which supports the view that neuro-immune abnormalities are present. Another found active neuro-immune responses that resembled those of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Chronic microglial activations were found that lead to a sustained neuro-inflammatory response, which becomes a response under control by the innate immune system. Other researchers found that patients with autism showed increased innate and adaptive immune responses through the Th1 immune pathway. Two main dysfunctions observed are in immune regulation involving inflammatory cytokines and in autoimmunity.
With a stressed immune system, there is a high probability of secondary infections and activations with chronic viruses. There has been a recent discovery of an active XMRV retrovirus in a much higher than normal proportion of CFS patients, and in initial screenings, of patients with labels of autism, atypical Multiple Sclerosis, and Fibromyalgia. This raises the potential of ongoing harm or damage to the brain (not being a static encephalopathy), which heightens the issues of neuro-immune inflammation that are common in these types of infections. All of these studies, and others, point to a disease-mediated neurological dysfunction.
What we call ‘autism’ is really a disease with autistic symptoms, NOT autism with an immune component. While there are stronger and stronger assumptions, neither the exact predispositions nor the exact cause of neuro-immune dysfunction is known for every patient at this point. There are many different phenotypes, which may have had different paths and different combinations of stressors, leading to similar neuro-immune dysfunctions.
Neuro-Immune Dysfunction and Genetics
Neuro-Immune Dysfunction patients are most likely to have a genetic predisposition for immune system dysfunction/dysregulation. Roughly 20 % (or higher) of the general population carries the genetic predisposition for autoimmune-type disorders. For unknown reasons, there often seems to be a connection between high intelligence in adult patients or in the families of affected children and immune dysfunction.
This now common predisposition, of having a potentially more fragile and more reactive immune system, can be further compromised by the many stresses we have now in our environment. This type of immune system is at higher risk than usual of having immune dysfunction triggered. We strongly believe it is a combination of stresses, not a single cause that triggers neuro-immune dysfunction.
Possible stressors include the following:
Intrauterine, prenatal or neonatal stress
A major acute infection in a child
Bacteria, viruses, or retroviruses
Environmental factors creating general immune stress
A specific toxin exposure
Recurrent allergies (rashes and eczema mean stress on the skin, stress on the neuro-immune system)
A combination of other stressors and trauma
Misuse of antibiotics
Possibly poorly timed immunizations (which may serve as additional stress on a predisposed, already immune-activated individual. As implied by many, these immunizations cannot actually cause ‘autism’, the autistic-like symptoms are caused by the effects of the immune system dysfunction.)
The combination of these stressors builds up to the point where the immune system is so stressed that it becomes overwhelmed or ‘crosses a line’ and goes into an autoimmune, internally dysregulated state. This newly dysregulated/dysfunctional immune system becomes hyper-reactive, having multiple food and environmental sensitivities. The dysfunction is self-perpetuating, and is also open to additional dysfunction and stress from a presumed secondary chronic viral activation (however, the possibility of dysfunction and stress from a mysterious, unidentified primary pathogen cannot be ruled out yet).
Consequently, a reaction is set in motion by the neuro-immune system – a shutdown of blood flow to critical areas of the brain – by certain neuro polypeptides called cytokines and chemokines. This is caused by a dysfunction (or mistake) of one of the immune system’s protective mechanisms, which normally uses this protective shutdown measure to protect the brain from outside invaders during illness. Normally, this mechanism stops when the illness is over, but in neuro-immune dysfunction, it continues on an autoimmune course.
NeuroSPECT Scans and Blood Flow
Areas of the brain experiencing decreased blood flow, therefore decreased activity, do not function normally. With young onset, and a long-term shutdown, it is likely that these areas also stop going through normal development stages. Areas of decreased blood flow shown via NeuroSPECT scans are brain regions known to involve functions that directly relate to autistic symptoms and behaviors, such as language, auditory processing, social skills (temporal lobes), and motor issues (cerebellum). This can also explain the cognitive symptoms seen in the large number of kids with the new ADHD, displaying executive or cognitive dysfunction and often fatigue, versus children with the old ADD who showed symptoms of hyperactivity, but who were otherwise very bright and intelligent.
Restoring Balance to the Immune System
A key point is that the immune system is not broken or damaged beyond repair, but rather is functioning incorrectly. Also, the patient’s immune functions can be both over reactive and under reactive at the same time, which is not typical of past knowledge regarding autoimmune disorders. Activating or suppressing the overall immune system is a mistaken therapy; neuro-immune regulation needs to be accomplished by promoting the immune system’s own mechanisms to achieve a healthy balance. After treatment, when this balance is restored, parents report improvements in overall health, behavior, socialization, academics, and speech and language in their children. In addition, we can objectively measure results by noting improvements in lab tests and subsequent NeuroSPECT scans. When compared to the initial scans, the areas of the brain that showed decreased blood flow will now show improved flow, resulting in the restoration of brain function. Dramatic, real life examples of this can be seen on patients NeuroSPECT scan comparisons.