Disordered Metal Metabolism in a Large Autism Population

William J. Walsh, Anjum Usman, and Jeffrey Tarpey
Presented at the APA Annual Meeting, May, 2001 - New Orleans.


Objective: To investigate the incidence of metal metabolism disorders in an autistic-spectrum patient population.

Method: Chemical analyses of blood and urine samples from 503 patients diagnosed with autistic disorder (n=318), Asperger's disorder (n=23), or atypical autism (n=162) were evaluated.

Results: Of patients tested, 428 (85%) exhibited severely elevated Cu/Zn ratios in blood (average 1.78) compared to a population of healthy controls (average 1.15). Another 30 patients (6%) exhibited a pyrrole disorder associated with severe Zn deficiency. Of the remaining subjects (n=49), 45 reported undergoing aggressive Zn therapy at the time of sampling. A total of 499 of the 503 autism-spectrum patients exhibited evidence of a metal-metabolism disorder.

Conclusion: The absence of Cu and Zn homeostasis and severe Zn deficiency are suggestive of a metallothionein (MT) disorder. MT functions include neuronal development, detoxification of heavy metals, and immune response. Many classic symptoms of autism may be explained by a MT defect in infancy including G.I. tract problems, heightened sensitivity to toxic metals, and abnormal behaviors. These data suggest that an inborn error of MT functioning may be a fundamental cause of autism.



Recent research indicates that a metallothionein (MT) protein dysfunction may be a primary cause of autism. MT proteins are directly involved in development of brain neurons, detoxification of heavy metals, and immune response. Treatments to promote the induction and proper functioning of MT proteins are described.

William J. Walsh, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at HRI-Pfeiffer Treatment Center, is a biochemist with more than 30 years of research experience. Dr. Walsh has worked for some of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the country, including Argonne National Laboratory, where he spent 22 years as a researcher. His research and volunteer work involving biochemical predisposition to behavior disorders led to Dr. Walsh's foundation of the Health Research Institute in 1982 and the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in 1989, as non-profit organizations. HRI-Pfeiffer evaluates and treats biochemical imbalances associated with ADHD, behavior disorders, depression, autism, and schizophrenia.