A new, large-scale study suggests a potential link between autism and autoimmunity. Of more than 2,700 mothers selected for the study, one in ten were found to have antibodies in their bloodstream that react with proteins in the brain of their babies.
While the blood-brain barrier is usually supposed to prevent mothers from being harmed by the antibodies, the very same filter in fetuses might not be as well-developed, causing for the “anti-brain” antibodies to pass through to the babies’ brains, potentially causing autism.
In healthy people, when a foreign invader (such as a virus or bacteria) enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies to attack those foreign substances. But in people with autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly recognizes the body’s own healthy tissues and organs as foreign invaders and produces antibodies to attack them. These auto-antibodies—also known as antibodies produced against the self—then cause the disease. The resulting disease is dependent upon which tissues or organs the antibodies are attacking.
The study was led by Dr. Betty Diamond, head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Long Island, New York. Diamond said that the very large sample size “gives a clearer impression of the prevalence of these antibodies.”
“We at AARDA applaud Dr. Diamond’s research into an area that concerns all parents,” said Virginia T. Ladd, President of American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc.
Some 50 million Americans live and cope with autoimmune disease (AD)—75% of whom are women. AD is also one of the top 10 leading causes of death of women under the age of 65.