Pregnant Mothers’ Immune Dysfunction Linked to Autism With Intellectual Disability

By Denisse Moreno, Epoch Times
June 8, 2016 Updated: June 15, 2016

Autism with intellectual disability is associated with the mother’s immune dysfunction while pregnant, a recent study suggests.

Expecting mothers who have high levels of certain inflammatory proteins, cytokines, and chemokines, which control communication between cells of the immune system, may have significantly greater chances of having a child with autism along with intellectual disability, according to the study conducted by UC Davis Mind Institute.

Researchers studied a large, diverse population by using blood serum samples of mothers in the Kaiser Permanente Early Markers for Autism Study, obtained from the California Department of Public Health.

Of that population, 184 children developed autism and intellectual disability, 188 had developmental disability alone, and 428 were general population control participants.

Women who had delivered their babies between July 2000 and September 2003 participated in the research that was designed to evaluate biomarkers for autism.

“Inflammation during the second trimester in the mothers of children with autism who also have intellectual disability was significantly greater than in mothers of children [with] autism without intellectual disability in our study,” said Judy Van de Water, professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“However, equally significant was that profiles of mothers whose children go on to be diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability differed markedly from those whose children have intellectual disability without autism, as well as from the typically developing general population,” she said.

“Their profiles are distinct from all of the other groups that we studied, based on their cytokine and chemokine profiles,” Van de Water added. “This finding suggests an avenue that we will explore to potentially identify possible markers to separate sub-phenotypes in the autism population.”

Researchers say an increase in inflammatory markers with the autism and intellectual disability group in comparison with other reference groups is striking.

“This really is suggesting that there is a lack of the immune regulation in these moms that is typically associated with a healthy pregnancy,” said Karen L. Jones, an author of the study.

Researchers concluded that variations in the gestational immune environment among mothers of children who have autism with intellectual disability may lead to alterations in the neurodevelopmental course of the developing fetus.

This may eventually result in the altered behavioral phenotype characteristic of children with autism and intellectual disability.

Authors of the study also pointed out that maternal immune activation represents one of various paths that can lead to differences in maternal cytokines, including environmental toxicants such as pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Mid-gestational maternal levels of cytokine and chemokine proteins might also interact with other possible risk factors, like parental genetics.

About 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Reports of individuals with autism range from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

During 2006–2008, about one in six children in the country had a developmental disability ranging from speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. 

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.