Associations between cytokines, endocrine stress response, and gastrointestinal symptoms in autism spectrum disorder
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by impairments in social communication and abnormal repetitive behavior patterns. Recent studies have shown a strong association between ASD and gastrointestinal (GI) symptomatology. Some individuals with ASD show altered reactivity to stress, as well as altered immune markers, particularly stress responsive cytokines including TNF-α and IL-6. To assess potential relationships between GI symptoms and stress response, we examined whether GI symptoms are associated with increases in stress-associated endocrine markers and cytokines in ASD. We also conducted exploratory analyses the examine the relationship between IL-6, TNF-α, cortisol, and intelligence, as well as the effects of the presence or absence of co-occurring medical conditions on the relationship between IL-6, TNF-α, cortisol, and GI symptoms. Given the aforementioned findings, we expected to find positive relationships between GI symptoms and biomarkers of stress, including cortisol levels, IL-6, and TNF-α.