A Mother’s Immune System May Play a Role in Autism Development in their Child

According to a recent study, a mother’s immune system may be correlated to the development of autism disorders in their children. Some mothers of children with autism appear to have immune system deficiencies, as well as antibodies in their blood, which attack the brain proteins of their fetuses.

Autism disorders have been studied for many years, and there is still no clear answer of how they may develop. However, Dr. Andrew Adesman, Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, states, “This latest research takes us one step closer to clearing away some of the befuddlement and suggests why some children may develop autism”. Genetics play a major role in autism development, and this study makes it more evident that autism may begin to develop while the child is still in their mother’s womb. Dr. Adesman adds, “If maternal antibodies are indeed responsible for causing some cases of autism, then there is the possibility that a blood test could be done prenatally or even prior to getting pregnant to assess one’s risk of having a child with autism.”

As a result, this research may lead to potential advances in drug development, as this serves as a target for areas that need to be treated. Researchers have named this form of autism Maternal Autoantibody-Related (MAR) autism. Researchers state that upwards of a quarter of all cases of autism disorders may be of the MAR kind.

The study utilized blood samples of nearly 250 mothers that have children with autism, as well as the blood samples of 150 mothers of children without autism. The mothers of children with ASD were more than 21 times as likely to have the MAR antibodies in their systems that reacted with antigens, or fetal brain proteins. MAR antibodies were not found in the blood of mothers of children without autism.

In addition to this study, previous research has found that women with certain antibodies in their bloodstreams had an increased risk of having a child with autism. These children typically exhibited more severe language delays and irritability as opposed to the behaviors of children with autism whose mothers did not have the antibodies in their blood. Judy Van de Water, immunologist and professor of internal medicine, states, “Now we will be able to better determine the role of each protein in brain development. We hope that, one day, we can tell a mother more precisely what her antibody profile means for her child, then target interventions more effectively.”

By being able to identify the proteins associated with MAR autism, new therapies can potentially be developed to help treat those with the disorder. Furthermore, doctors may administer “antibody blockers” to the mother during pregnancy to aid in the development of the fetal brain. This research also leads to the possible development of a test for MAR autism, which would be available to mothers of young children who are showing signs of developmental delay. Results of the test could allow the child to receive early intervention and the best individualized care.

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