A recent research published online in the Translational Psychiatry journal revealed that children born with autism and exhibit severe behavioral and developmental problems were exposed to certain auto antibodies during pregnancy.
In the past, many studies have reported a link between autoimmune diseases in the mothers and autism in their children. A large-scale Danish study reported that the risk of autism nearly double in mothers with disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and celiac.
It has been shown that genetic disorders affecting mental ability in children are caused by certain antibodies from the mother entering the brain in the fetal stage, when the blood-brain barrier into the brain is not fully developed.
Based on these findings, researchers suspected the involvement of antibodies in the autoimmune mechanism causing autism in children. Previous studies found the presence of a certain group of antibodies affecting the fetal brain in 12% of the mothers of autistic children.
The current study confirms that auto antibodies cross the placenta and affect the child’s mental development. This condition is now being referred to in the scientific community as maternal antibody-related (MAR) autism and is said to represent 23% of autistic cases.
Melissa D. Bauman and her colleagues conducted the experiments on pregnant female rhesus monkeys to evaluate the impact of maternal IgG antibodies on the offspring. The autism specific antibodies were extracted from the human mothers of children with autism. Researchers exposed one group of pregnant monkeys with the purified IgG antibody that is associated with autism. The other group of monkeys was exposed with antibodies taken from mothers of healthy children.
Investigators followed the mental development and behavior patterns of the monkeys for the first two years using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.
The scientists observed that the mother monkeys treated with IgG-ASD antibodies seemed more protective of their offspring. Researchers suggest that the mother monkeys may have detected behavioral abnormalities in their offspring that increased their protective instincts.
As the monkeys grew, the ones born to mothers exposed to IgG-ASD antibodies had exhibited unusual behavior, which is assumed to be a dangerous act for young rhesus monkeys.
The researchers in their previous study with mice had reported a similar change in behavior in the offspring when the mothers were exposed to autism specific antibodies.
David Amaral, research director of the MIND Institute and senior author had stated that this research has opened the pathway to effective prevention of autism in the future. He also cautions that further extensive studies are required to understand the exact mechanism by which these antibodies affect the fetal brain.
Another study published today by the researchers from the same Institute, have found for the first time an association between autism and excessive cerebrospinal fluid and enlarged brains during infancy. Investigators observed brain anomalies in infants who were diagnosed with autism after the age of two. The study involved infants aged between 6 and 36months. The infants in the high-risk group were reported to have 22% additional cerebrospinal spinal fluid at six to nine months of age when compared with typical children.
The findings from this research may be beneficial in designing an early detection procedure, which would help with the beginning of treatment at an earlier stage.
According to CDC, 1 in 88 children in US have been diagnosed with autism. It is five times more common in boys than among girls. A remarkable research of the increase over the incidence of autism revealed that it could be linked to maternal auto antibodies. Researchers are continuing their research to understand its cause to develop prevention and treatment strategies.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas