Autism and Mitochondria

Prometheus brings us the best article I’ve seen to date on why the new push for a mitochondrial basis for autism is total nonsense.

Once I saw this push from denialists like David Kirby towards a link between mitochondria and autism I knew we were in for a world of trouble. If only because mitochondrial diseases are a relatively new area of study and there are enough unknowns that they’ll be able to milk this nonsense for a decade at least.

Prometheus, however, does an excellent job showing how the likelihood of a mitochondrial explanation for autism is prima facie absurd. This is not surprising given the clear absence of evidence for a maternal pattern of inheritance and the non-progressive nature of autism which is usually described as a “static encephalopathy”.

Keep the link handy for when you start hearing mito-woo from the DAN quacks.


  1. My expertise is that of an ordained parent,and the school of hard knocks autism is a valuable education, however,I remain a scientific amateur.
    My common sense dictates “show me” and cautions me to avoid snake oil. I agree that “celebrity doctorisms” are dangerous especially in light of the fact that a viewing audience of poorly educated individuals might believe the nonprofessional advice of Hollywood.
    I am intrigued by your notion of scare tactics and denialism. It makes sense.
    Nevertheless, I too want answers, just valid ones. My child with autism is one of a set of quadruplets. He is the only one affected. They were all inoculated in the late ’80s. I attended a lecture by David Kirby right after his book was published. I posed our situation to him in an open panel, he responded that birth order, at risk etc. makes a child vulnerable to vaccines. It sounded plausible, yet I was not convinced.
    Initially ‘static encephalopathy’ was the catch word used for my son. Your inclusion of this term was the first time I have seen it in many years. How does it pertain to the diagnosis?
    Finally, keep up the good work, you now have a fan!
    Robin H. Morris

  2. Robin, sorry I didn’t see this comment earlier.

    Static encephalopathy refers to a brain disorder that is non-progressive. When you compare a progressive encephalopathy, like Rett’s syndrome or disingtegrative disorder, to autism or Aspergers you see that despite notions of a regression (which I think are usually very subjective and based on a misunderstanding of developmental milestones), autism is fairly “static”. You can certainly use directed treatments to improve prognosis and outcomes, but for the most part the damage is done, and isn’t getting worse (in contrast to the progressive versions).

    It’s part of why a mitochondrial basis is so unbelievable. Static is inconsistent with that mechanism of disease since mitochondrial disorders will tend to get progressively worse year after year.

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