The contribution of platelets to peripheral BDNF elevation in children with autism spectrum disorder

Cristan A. Farmer, Audrey E. Thurm, Bianca Honnekeri, Paul Kim, Susan E. Swedo, Joan C. Han

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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key peptide in neurocognitive development, has been reported to be elevated in the serum of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In a few studies, however, no differences or the converse have been documented. As a secondary analysis of a natural history study, we examined differences in ELISA serum BDNF between a group of children aged 1 to 9 years (69% white) with ASD (n = 94) and those with typical development (n = 52) or non-ASD developmental delay (n = 21), while accounting for the potential confounding effects of platelet quantity. Platelet counts were measured within 4 h of blood draw using an automated cell counter. Taqman single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) assays were used to genotype 11 SNPs within the BDNF locus. Unadjusted mean BDNF concentration was higher in children with ASD than in children with typical development (standardized mean difference = 0.23; 95% CI 0.07, 0.38), but not children with non-ASD developmental delay. The magnitude of this difference was reduced after adjusting for platelet count (standardized mean difference = 0.18; 95% CI 0.02, 0.33). Although some BDNF SNPs were related to BDNF concentration, the distributions of these genotypes did not differ across diagnostic groups. This study replicates previous work suggesting that average serum BDNF concentration is higher in ASD compared to typical development, and extends that work by highlighting the potentially confounding role of platelet counts. The etiology of platelet count differences warrants further elucidation. Nonetheless, our results suggest that elevation in BDNF may be partially explained by higher platelet counts in children with ASD, an association that should be considered in future analysis and interpretation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18158
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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