Modeling autism: a systems biology approach.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world today. The prevalence of autism in the US has risen from 1 in 2500 in 1970 to 1 in 88 children today. People with autism present with repetitive movements and with social and communication impairments. These impairments can range from mild to profound. The estimated total lifetime societal cost of caring for one individual with autism is $3.2 million US dollars.
With the rapid growth in this disorder and the great expense of caring for those with autism, it is imperative for both individuals and society that techniques be developed to model and understand autism.
There is increasing evidence that those individuals diagnosed with autism present with highly diverse set of abnormalities affecting multiple systems of the body. To this date, little to no work has been done using a whole body systems biology approach to model the characteristics of this disorder. Identification and modelling of these systems might lead to new and improved treatment protocols, better diagnosis and treatment of the affected systems, which might lead to improved quality of life by themselves, and, in addition, might also help the core symptoms of autism due to the potential interconnections between the brain and nervous system with all these other systems being modeled.
This paper first reviews research which shows that autism impacts many systems in the body, including the metabolic, mitochondrial, immunological, gastrointestinal and the neurological. These systems interact in complex and highly interdependent ways. Many of these disturbances have effects in most of the systems of the body. In particular, clinical evidence exists for increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and immune and mitochondrial dysfunction which can affect almost every cell in the body. Three promising research areas are discussed, hierarchical, subgroup analysis and modeling over time. This paper reviews some of the systems disturbed in autism and suggests several systems biology research areas. Autism poses a rich test bed for systems biology modeling techniques.