Neuroinflammation is inflammation of the nervous tissue initiated by a variety of triggers including infection, traumatic brain injury, toxic exposure and autoimmunity.  The central nervous system which includes the brain and spinal cord, cells called microglia are activated in response to these triggers.  Circulating immune cells can cross the blood brain barrier, if compromised, to express abnormal immune responses resulting in widespread inflammation and further deterioration of the blood brain barrier.

Dysregulation of the genesis of the nervous system due to adverse intrauterine environmental exposure such as infection, toxicants, environmental and food triggers has emerged as a key mechanism underlying many neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders.  Neuroinflammation or encephalitis is a hallmark feature of brain disorders like autism.  Different regions of the brain may be adversely affected which can dictate the variation in neurological symptoms and presentation of autism

Chronic oxidative stress on the cellular function of the body has been associated with various disorders including ADHD, anxiety and depression, autism, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Lyme Disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, metabolic syndrome, thyroid disorders,  asthma, sleep apnea, Crohn’s disease, reflux, celiac disease, gout, eczema/dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Acute inflammation results in early response to injury, infection and tissue healing. Swelling, redness, heat and pain are classic signs of inflammation.  Chronic inflammation represents the late sustained response to pathogens and toxicants.  This can result in tissue destruction.

Inflammation can start during pregnancy if mother is exposed to infections, environmental allergens and toxins.  Poor nutrition or deficiencies can lay the groundwork for inflammatory properties which may affect the fetal brain development.  Stress during pregnancy or delivery combined with any of the above triggers has been shown to result in autism and epilepsy. Brain studies have documented changes in the white and gray matter in the fetal brain compared with typically developing individuals.  Cerebellar dysfunction and hyperactivation in areas of the brain are induced by microglia-mediated neuroinflammation and abnormalities of the intracerebral environment

Potential targets of neuroinflammation are Toll-like receptors, pro-inflammatory cytokines and mitochondrial dysregulation of energy cycles.  Mast cells responsible for hypersensitivity reactions seen in allergic response, atopic dermatitis and allergic rhinitis are responsible for regulation of inflammatory responses, resist bacterial and parasite infections by regulating histamine production.  These have all been associated with autism.  Mast cells in the brain are important source of inflammatory molecules.  During neuroinflammation excessive levels of mast cell mediators can influence neurogenesis, neurodegeneration and permeability of the blood brain barrier.  Histamine itself is associated with reflux, intestinal malabsorption of foods/nutrients, skin rashes, hives and itching, cardiac function abnormalities, respiratory disorders such as asthma, sleep disorders, uterine dysfunction and problems in central nervous system.  Proper testing of environmental inhalants such as trees, grasses, weeks, mites, molds, animal dander must be done to determine which of these triggers will affect an individual patient.  There are many ways to do this testing although the most popular methods used for many years are not free of other contaminants and although used routinely by allergists are not reliable ways to assess exposure nor are they going to offer adequate treatment.  Simply eliminating everything a child is exposed to is not practical nor possible.  What does help is changing the way the body reacts to these inflammatory triggers.  Antihistamines work very well and have been used for many years to treat ADHD, obsessive compulsive motor tics and anxiety.  Regulation of diet and ingestion of foods that are known triggers of histamine and inflammation must be addressed. 

The inability to properly detoxify all of the substances in our environment, heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, antimony, nickel and cadmium to name a few of the more prevalent ones, as well as all the chemicals to which we are exposed can not only trigger neuroinflammation but can affect all other systems in the body.  Detoxification pathways in the mitochondrial function must be examined and removal of these toxicants are essential to the reduction of neuroinflammation.  Boosting antioxidant potential of the patient and removal of toxicants will help reduce inflammation in the brain and throughout the bodies other organ systems.  Of course continual use of organophosphate insecticides, lead in the ground and water, mercury found in pesticides and vaccines, parabens from hazardous chemicals and even typically applied sun blocks, and the constant exposure to WiFi electromagnetic fields and radiation must be addressed if toxicity is to be controlled.

Diet loaded with saturated fats, synthetic carbohydrates, processed junk foods, lack of proteins and good fats contributes to the neuroinflammation.   While this is one of the biggest challenges to parents, what they feed their kids is a significant part of the problem.  Good nutritional guidance and supplementation of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants is an integral part of re-regulating cellular function and reduction of inflammation everywhere in the body

In order to properly evaluate a patient, physicians must obtain complete histories, performing complete physical examinations and do appropriate laboratory testing.   Only then can the triggers of neuroinflammation and the subsequent effects be understood so that appropriate treatment plans can be developed.  Each patient is an individual and cannot be put into little ‘boxes’ with assumption that ‘one size fits all.’  It is important to find a physician or medial practitioner who is well versed in the biochemistry and immune function of the human body in order to develop reasonable conclusions as to what the underlying issues are and not just treat the symptoms.  This is a time consuming task but can be done with the ultimate goal to make the kids healthy and potentially ‘recover’

There are many supplements on the market.  It is important to have the guidance of a well-informed practitioner who can present these alternatives to parents based on their conclusions derived from lab testing.  Good nutritional guidance and supplementation of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants is an integral part of re-regulating cellular function and reduction of inflammation in the body.  Navigating the lists of products is a daunting task.  There are certain mitochondrial ‘cocktails’ and antioxidants on the market that have been formulated to meet the needs of our patients and have the components needed to correct many of the problems facing our kids.  The key to a good product is that it is clean of preservatives and additives, tastes good and is easy to administer to the youngest child and is not costly.  I recommend parents investigate supplements to be sure they meet proper standards and that they actually work.

In this 1 hour (video) lecture titled “NEUROINFLAMMATION IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS, Dr. Elice focuses on the underlying causes of autism spectrum disorders as autoimmune inflammatory disorders.  Please visit for more information about Michael Elice, MD and his work.

Wishing you health, wellness and a road to recovery!

Michael Elice, MD

About: Michael W Elice is a board certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, fellow of MAPS and skilled in the evaluation and treatment of children on the autism spectrum disorders, mitochondrial, PANDAS, immune and metabolic disorders.  Dr Elice is now in his 41st year of pediatric practice and has sub specialized in these disorders for the past 15 years.  He has presented at MAPS, Autism One,  National Autism Association conferences as well as SEPTA meetings on the local level.  He has patients from many states in the US and in many countries around the world. 

Disclosure: Dr. Michael Elice serves as a Medical Advisor for NeuroNeeds LLC, the start-up company that makes SpectrumNeeds®, QNeeds®, and CalmNeeds®.  

The Content within this article and NeuroNews Blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Blog.