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Similar to many complex autoimmune diseases, genetic and environmental factors including diet, infection and xenobiotics play a critical role in the development of autism. In this study, we postulated that infectious agent antigens such as streptokinase, dietary peptides (gliadin and casein) and ethyl mercury (xenobiotic) bind to different lymphocyte receptors and tissue enzyme (DPP IV or CD26). We assessed this hypothesis first by measuring IgG, IgM and IgA antibodies against CD26, CD69, streptokinase (SK), gliadin and casein peptides and against ethyl mercury bound to human serum albumin in patients with autism. A significant percentage of children with autism developed anti-SK, anti-gliadin and casein peptides and anti-ethyl mercury antibodies, concomitant with the appearance of anti-CD26 and anti-CD69 autoantibodies. These antibodies are synthesized as a result of SK, gliadin, casein and ethyl mercury binding to CD26 and CD69, indicating that they are specific. Immune absorption demonstrated that only specific antigens, like CD26, were capable of significantly reducing serum anti-CD26 levels. However, for direct demonstration of SK, gliadin, casein and ethyl mercury to CD26 or CD69, microtiter wells were coated with CD26 or CD69 alone or in combination with SK, gliadin, casein or ethyl mercury and then reacted with enzyme labeled rabbit anti-CD26 or anti-CD69. Adding these molecules to CD26 or CD69 resulted in 28-86% inhibition of CD26 or CD69 binding to anti-CD26 or anti-CD69 antibodies. The highest % binding of these antigens or peptides to CD26 or CD69 was attributed to SK and the lowest to casein peptides. We, therefore, propose that bacterial antigens (SK), dietary peptides (gliadin, casein) and Thimerosal (ethyl mercury) in individuals with pre-disposing HLA molecules, bind to CD26 or CD69 and induce antibodies against these molecules. In conclusion, this study is apparently the first to demonstrate that dietary peptides, bacterial toxins and xenobiotics bind to lymphocyte receptors and/or tissue enzymes, resulting in autoimmune reaction in children with autism.
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