Children who do not receive one of the hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy may be more likely to develop autism, according to a new study. A report on the study this month by Eureka Alert noted that the hormone, allopregnanolone, is extremely vital for normal fetal brain development. The findings of the study were reported on October 20th by the Children’s National Hospital, at the Neuroscience 2019 annual meeting.
Dr. Claire-Marie Vacher, the lead author of the study, said it was groundbreaking in that “no other research team has studied how placental allopregnanolone (ALLO) contributes to brain development and long-term behaviors.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 10 infants is born prematurely, and 1 in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder. To investigate what happens when the production of allopregnanolone, or ALLO, is disrupted, researchers created a model in which they deleted a gene essential to ALLO synthesis. When the ALLO production in the placenta declined, the offspring had permanent neurodevelopmental changes in a manner specific to sex and region.
“From a behavioral perspective, male offspring whose ALLO supply was abruptly reduced exhibited increased repetitive behavior and sociability deficits - two hallmarks in humans who have autism spectrum disorder," Vacher said.
The researchers also found that one ALLO injection during pregnancy was enough to prevent the brain abnormalities and abnormal social behaviors in the experimental models.
For their next step, the researchers are hoping to better understand the role of placenta function on fetal and newborn brain development.
“Our team's data provides exciting new evidence that underscores the importance of placental hormones on shaping and programming the developing fetal brain,” Vacher noted.