Abstract from Presentation at the
Symposium on Autism, Connecticut, 1996

Title: Stealth Viral Encephalopathy in Autistic Children

Author: W. John Martin, M.D., Ph.D.

A novel class of cytopathic viruses, provisionally termed stealth viruses, have been detected in blood, cerbrospinal fluid (CSF), and brain tissue of patients with a wide variety of neurologic and psychiatric illnesses. The diverse neuropsychiatric manifestations of stealth viral encephalopathies may reflect the involvement of differing regions of the brain of individuals variously predisposed to deficits in particular areas of neurocognitive functions. In the case of early onset autism, infection may have been acquired during a critical period of brain development. Several patients with severe stealth viral encephalopathy have shown remarkable clinical improvement, seemingly in the absence of an anti-viral inflammatory response. These observations suggest the existence of virus inhibitors acting within the brain.

Certain stealth viruses may have been inadvertently transmitted to humans through live polio viral vaccines. These viruses retain sequences closely related to those present in African green monkey simian cytomegalovirus (SCMV). Genetic sequencing and electron microscopic studies of the prototype SCMV-derived stealth virus, are consistent with a fragmented, incomplete, viral genome. Efforts are underway to determine their replicative strategies, regulatory controls, and the cellular metabolic changes resulting in the vacuolated cytopathic effects (CPE) that occur in both human and animal cultured cell lines.

CPE typical of that seen with stealth viruses has been observed with blood cultures from many of the autistic children examined. Electron microscopic studies have confirmed the presence of atypical viruses in several of these cultures. Individual viral isolates have yet to be characterized molecularly and their susceptibility to anti-viral agents determined. Therapeutic trials using stealth virus inhibitors may help elucidate whether these viruses are the major cause of autism and whether the viral induced damage can be repaired.

A listing of published studies involving stealth viruses is attached. This work is being supported by CAN (Cure Autism Now), Los Angeles, CA, and by the Theodore & Vada Stanley Foundation Research Program.