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A prenatal immunity challenge now tied to autism


A decade ago, scientists at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) first investigated the link between immune system irregularities and neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. They had yet to discover if the immune changes play a causative role in the development of the disease or are the a side effect. A new study from Caltech suggests that specific changes in the overactive immune system may actually contribute to autism, at least in the behavior of lab mice.

The immune system may play a role

“We have long suspected that the immune system plays a role in the development of autism spectrum disorder,” said Paul Patterson, the Anne P. and Benjamin F Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences at Caltech. “In our studies of a mouse model based on an environmental risk factor for autism, we find that the immune system of the mother is a key factor in the eventual abnormal behaviors of the offspring.”

The prenatal immunity challenge may have consequences

Initially, they developed a mouse model that tied autistic type behaviors to immune changes. They drew from a Danish study which showed a link between babies with autism and mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of gestation. Researchers replicated this in mice.

“In mice, this single insult to the mother translates into autism-related behavioral abnormalities in both young and adult offspring of immune-activated mothers,” explained Elaine Hsiao, a graduate student in Patterson’s lab. “This tells us that a prenatal challenge can result in long-term consequences for health and development.”

Treating the immune system may improve autism

The researchers were then able to correct the behaviors by introducing a bone marrow transplant from typical mice. The normal stem cells replenished the immune system and corrected the behaviors. The results suggest that immune irregularities in children could be an important target for innovative immune manipulations in addressing certain behaviors typical of autism.

Source: California Institute of Technology, MedicalNewsToday

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