The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is increasing, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 1 in 68 people have the disorder. While there is no single known cause of ASD, research has suggested that the immune system may have a role, and that activation of the maternal immune response during pregnancy may increase the risk of ASD developing in the unborn child. A recent paper in Nature investigated associations between the maternal immune activation (MIA) and the severity of ASD symptoms in their child.
The authors analysed an existing cohort of 220 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and found that the children whose mothers had a history of allergies and/or asthma had significantly higher scores on the social responsiveness scale (SRS) (p=0.016), compared to those whose mothers did not. The SRS measures social interaction, language, and repetitive/restricted behaviours and interests in the child; a higher score is suggestive of a greater degree of social impairment symptoms. The association was not seen when looking at autoimmune conditions, but many of the mothers were diagnosed with autoimmune problems post-pregnancy, which may have affected the findings.
Although no causal relationship was shown, the study does suggest that the immune system may have a role in ASD.
— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow
- Patel S, Masi A, Dale RC, Whitehouse AJO, Pokorski I, Alvares GA, Hickie IB, Breen E, Guastella AJ. Social impairments in autism spectrum disorder are related to maternal immune history profile. Mol Psychiatry. 2017.