How could baby teeth hold clues to ADHD and autism?

The causes of neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder have always mystified researchers and are generally misunderstood.

But new research from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City could bring us closer to solving the riddle. According to a study published in Translational Psychiatry in September this year, elemental signatures unique to conditions such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder have been identified in baby teeth, which could mean that metabolic regulation of nutrients and toxins plays a role in the cause of these diseases.

According to the news report, the researchers used baby teeth to reconstruct prenatal and early-life exposures to nutrients and toxic elements in neurotypical children and children with autism, ADHD, or ADHD and autism.

This study examined the baby teeth of 74 children enrolled in the Roots of Autism and ADHD Twin Study in Sweden (RATSS), which included twin siblings with and without autism and ADHD. Researchers compared elemental metabolism in neurotypical children to those with ADHD, autism or those diagnosed with both autism and ADHD.

Metabolic signatures key to future research 

It was discovered that both conditions had a unique metabolic signature which could be a combination of dysregulation in the metabolic pathways involving essential and toxic elements.

"Environmental epidemiologists typically study exposure to essential and toxic elements by examining how much of a given element a child was exposed to, but our work indicates that the way a child metabolizes environmental exposures is essential to healthy neurodevelopment," said Paul Curtin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

"The discovery that autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the combined presentation of autism and ADHD each have a unique metabolic signature can inform future studies on what might cause the disorders. It could help us determine the pathways implicated in the different diseases, which, in turn, could inform the development of treatment and prevention strategies."

Not a diagnostic tool yet

While this discovery means a lot for future research, it should not yet be treated as a diagnostic tool for ADHD and autism. It could simply have implications for the way these conditions are detected early in a child’s life.

Image credit: iStock

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