I read on this WebMD article (published in 2008) that children with autism appear to improve when they have a fever. What could explain it?

One hypothesis mentioned in the article is that:

fever may affect brain function at the cellular level by influencing the production of immune-system signaling proteins known as cytokines.

Is there evidence to support this hypothesis in newer studies?

  • Ever heard the expression 'can't see the forest for the trees'? It has nothing to do with cytokines or fevers, its the simple fact that when a person is sick, they feel terrible and want to rest. Applying that fact to the case of children with autism, when they are sick with a fever or anything else (vomiting w/ NO fever) they feel bad and want to rest. Therefore, they don't have the same level of 'fight' in them that they ordinarily do. They may be autistic but they are still humans with emotions. They also probably feel scared and the desire to be comforted overtakes their usual behavior.
    – NetServOps
    Jun 21, 2021 at 4:59

1 Answer 1


I could find one letter to the editor from 2011 that posits a few mechanisms by which increased blood flow caused by the fever might make autism symptoms better: Does fever relieve autistic behavior by improving brain blood flow?. It also mentions a workshop on the topic that happened in 2010.

Here is the workshop report.

One clear conclusion from the meeting is that much more research is needed to investigate the relationship between fever and autism, in particular whether the fever-related responses are a result of the temperature changes, or of a neuro-immune response related to infection. Clinical tests can examine the role of temperature by monitoring the effect of safely raising temperatures (such as in a water bath) on symptoms

There is a reply to the letter to the editor with some more thoughts related to causes.

I could find nothing newer, but this year, a grant of 900,000 USD grant was awarded to Indiana University to research that link: NIH awards Indiana University $900,000 to study link between body temperature and autism

"Like many research topics, the phenomenon isn't totally unknown, but exact mechanisms linking body temperature and autism haven't yet been organized as a principle and unpacked to see how it could work," said Alberts.

The IU study will be conducted in mice. Alberts and Harshaw will investigate the association between physiological deficits in the ability to regulate body temperature and social behaviors associated with autism using mouse models for both conditions.

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