-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) -- Some mothers of children
with autism appear to have immune system antibodies in their blood
that attack brain proteins in their fetuses, a new study finds.
"Autism is 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,'" said autism expert Dr. Andrew Adesman, who was not involved in the new study. "This latest research takes us one step closer to clearing away some of this befuddlement and suggests why some children may develop autism."
"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 on the autism spectrum disorder," added Adesman, who is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.
The research might also provide targets for drug development,
said the team of researchers from the University of California,
Davis MIND Institute.
They named the form of autism linked to these antibodies
Maternal Autoantibody-Related (MAR) autism, and they believe it
could account for up to 23 percent of all cases of the
In the study, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 246
mothers of children with autism and from 149 mothers of children
without autism. Compared to mothers of typical children, mothers of
children with autism were more than 21 times as likely to have the
MAR antibodies in their systems that reacted with fetal brain
Specific combinations of MAR antibodies were not found in the
blood of mothers of children without autism, according to the study
published online July 9 in the journal
Previous studies by the same researchers found that women with
certain antibodies in their bloodstreams had an increased risk of
having a child with autism. Their children also exhibited more
severe language delays, irritability and self-injurious behaviors
compared to children with autism whose mothers did not have the
antibodies in their blood.
"Now we will be able to better determine the role of each protein in brain development," study principal investigator Judy Van de Water, an immunologist and professor of internal medicine, said in a UC Davis Health System news release. "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."
"It is important to note that women have no control over whether or not they develop these auto-antibodies, much like any other autoimmune disorder," Van de Water stressed. "And, like other autoimmune disorders, we do not know what the initial trigger is that leads to their production."
Identifying the proteins and pathways associated with MAR autism
might help reveal the causes of autism and possibly lead to new
therapies, such as administering "antibody blockers" to the mother
during pregnancy to prevent damage to the developing fetal brain,
Van de Water said.
This research is leading to the development of a test for MAR
autism, which would be available to the mothers of young children
who are showing signs of developmental delay. If the test was
positive, the child could receive early behavioral
A MAR test might also assess a mother's risk of having a child
with autism prior to conception. UC Davis holds the patent on a
potential test, the news release notes.
Another expert said the new findings do hold promise.
"Since the original discovery of an auto-antibody marker in the blood of some women who have a child affected with autism, research has focused on how to use this finding for better diagnosis and intervention of ASD," noted Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences at the advocacy group Autism Speaks. "This new study is an important step in that process. "
But for his part, Adesman stressed that many cases of autism
occur outside of the process described in the study. "Since there
is no history of auto-antibodies for a large majority of children
with autism, a blood test for auto-antibodies blood test would not
be able to prevent most cases (or causes) of autism," he said.
In related research involving monkeys, another team at the UC
Davis MIND Institute also found that specific antibodies in a
mothers' blood cause brain changes in offspring that cause behavior
and development problems.
According to Halladay, "these findings further demonstrate that
disruptions of normal immune system functioning in pregnancy can
lead to a disruption of brain development and in some cases, a
diagnosis of autism."
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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