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01.12.2018 | Short report | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Journal of Neuroinflammation 1/2018

Extracellular vesicles are increased in the serum of children with autism spectrum disorder, contain mitochondrial DNA, and stimulate human microglia to secrete IL-1β

Journal of Neuroinflammation > Ausgabe 1/2018
Irene Tsilioni, Theoharis C. Theoharides



Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been associated with brain inflammation as indicated by the activation of microglia, but the triggers are not known. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are secreted from many cells in the blood and other biological fluids and carry molecules that could influence the function of target cells. EVs have been recently implicated in several diseases, but their presence or function in ASD has not been studied.


EVs were isolated from the serum of children with ASD (n = 20, 16 males and 4 females, 4–12 years old) and unrelated age and sex-matched normotypic controls (n = 8, 6 males and 2 females, 4–12 years old) using the exoEasy Qiagen kit. EVs were characterized by determining the CD9 and CD81 membrane-associated markers with Western blot analysis, while their morphology and size were assessed by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Human microglia SV40 were cultured for 24 h and then stimulated with EVs (1 or 5 μg/mL), quantitated as total EV-associated protein, for 24 or 48 h. IL-1β secretion was measured by ELISA. The results were analyzed using the Mann-Whitney U non-parametric test, and all statistical analyses were performed using Graph Pad Prism 5.


EVs were isolated and shown to be spherical structures (about 100 nm) surrounded by a membrane. Total EV-associated protein was found to be significantly increased (p = 0.02) in patients as compared to normotypic controls. EVs (5 μg/mL) isolated from the serum of patients with ASD stimulated cultured human microglia to secrete significantly more of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin IL-1β (163.5 ± 13.34 pg/mL) as compared to the control (117.7 ± 3.96 pg/mL, p < 0.0001). The amount of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA7S) contained in EVs from children with ASD was found to be increased (p = 0.046) compared to the normotypic controls.


These findings provide novel information that may help explain what triggers inflammation in the brain of children with ASD and could lead to novel effective treatments.
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