Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting approximately 2% of children in the United States. Growing evidence suggests that immune dysregulation is associated with ASD. One immunomodulatory treatment that has been studied in ASD is intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG). This systematic review and meta-analysis examined the studies which assessed immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrations and the therapeutic use of IVIG for individuals with ASD. Twelve studies that examined IgG levels suggested abnormalities in total IgG and IgG 4 subclass concentrations, with concentrations in these IgGs related to aberrant behavior and social impairments, respectively. Meta-analysis supported possible subsets of children with ASD with low total IgG and elevated IgG 4 subclass but also found significant variability among studies. A total of 27 publications reported treating individuals with ASD using IVIG, including four prospective, controlled studies (one was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study); six prospective, uncontrolled studies; 2 retrospective, controlled studies; and 15 retrospective, uncontrolled studies. In some studies, clinical improvements were observed in communication, irritability, hyperactivity, cognition, attention, social interaction, eye contact, echolalia, speech, response to commands, drowsiness, decreased activity and in some cases, the complete resolution of ASD symptoms. Several studies reported some loss of these improvements when IVIG was stopped. Meta-analysis combining the aberrant behavior checklist outcome from two studies demonstrated that IVIG treatment was significantly associated with improvements in total aberrant behavior and irritability (with large effect sizes), and hyperactivity and social withdrawal (with medium effect sizes). Several studies reported improvements in pro-inflammatory cytokines (including TNF-alpha). Six studies reported improvements in seizures with IVIG (including patients with refractory seizures), with one study reporting a worsening of seizures when IVIG was stopped. Other studies demonstrated improvements in recurrent infections, appetite, weight gain, neuropathy, dysautonomia, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Adverse events were generally limited but included headaches, vomiting, worsening behaviors, anxiety, fever, nausea, fatigue, and rash. Many studies were limited by the lack of standardized objective outcome measures. IVIG is a promising and potentially effective treatment for symptoms in individuals with ASD; further research is needed to provide solid evidence of efficacy and determine the subset of children with ASD who may best respond to this treatment as well as to investigate biomarkers which might help identify responsive candidates.
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