Research Highlight

Nail proteins nail autism

doi:10.1038/nindia.2011.73 Published online 26 May 2011

Researchers have identified new biological markers that can be used to diagnose the severity of autism, a mental disorder characterized by impaired social communication. The researchers found that patients with severe autism tended to have low concentrations of sulphur protein in their hair and nails — a finding that could help doctors to diagnose autism at an early stage.

Autism is a complex disorder that has varying degrees of severity. However, no specific biological marker for the disorder has yet been identified. Recent studies have used protein patterns in the hair and nails to identify specific markers for the diagnosis of childhood disorders such as mental retardation and dyslexia. This led the researchers to explore the existence of similar markers in autistic children.

The researchers compared the concentration of sulphur proteins from hair and nail samples of autistic children with those of normal children. They also measured blood levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances, nitric oxide, vitamins A and C, glutathione and superoxide dismutase. The concentration of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances in the blood is a measure of damage induced to cells by reactive oxygen species.

Hair and nail samples from the autistic group had a lower concentration of sulphur protein than those from the normal group. In addition, the autistic group exhibited lower levels of antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase as well as higher concentrations of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances, which suggests cellular damage through oxidative stress. The researchers say that lower levels of sulphur protein in the hair and nails of autistic children correlated with their degree of autistic severity.


  1. Priya, L. D. M. et al. A biochemical study on the level of proteins and their percentage of nitration in the hair and nail of autistic children. Clin. Chim. Acta. 412, 1036-1042 (2011)  | Article | PubMed |