Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Immune profile during pregnancy and autism

The question of a possible connection between the immune system and autism, at least some cases of autism spectrum conditions, continues onwards with this (open-access) paper* published in the journal Molecular Autism. I am going to be fairly brief with this study, because it is open-access and so you can read it yourselves. In essence the authors were looking to establish whether a specific maternal immune profile during pregnancy could somehow offer some insight into the 'risk' of a child developing autism or a developmental delay.

I don't need to say too much about risk that has not already been said (risk is risk, not causation) but there are some interesting findings reported from this paper:

  • Maternal serum samples collected between 15 - 19 weeks gestation were analysed for 17 cytokines and chemokines. Interestingly there was a comment about temperature control during transit of the original sample which may or may not be relevant to any results obtained.
  • Based on children subsequently diagnosed with either an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or developmental delay (DD) compared with general population (GP) controls, some interesting patterns emerged.
  • Maternal increasing serum interferon-gamma (sorry can't do with Greek letter) during pregnancy was associated with an increasing 'risk' of ASD compared to GP controls irrespective of whether the ASD was categorised as early-onset or regressive and irrespective of the presence of co-morbid intellectual disability.
  • A couple of other cytokines, IL-4 and IL-5 also conferred some risk to the child being diagnosed with ASD.
  • Levels of IL-10 seemed to be the common denominator when it came to risk of ASD or DD over GP controls.
  • Elevated levels of interferon-gamma and IL-6 (both inflammatory in their role) present in mums with children with ASD were slightly counter to what would normally be expected during pregnancy, where a degree of 'tolerance' is expected to prevent immune rejection of the developing foetus.

I'm not going to say much more than that about this study. It is an interesting one and if replicated, opens up a whole new area of early screening and possible intervention opportunities either in-utero or post-partum and beyond following on from previous studies by some of the same authors. This could on the one hand be a good thing but also could potentially lead to some darker places previously discussed by Prof. SBC. I will leave that debate for another post perhaps.

* Goines PE. et al. Increased mid-gestational IFN-gamma, IL-4, and IL-5 in women giving birth to a child with autism: a case-control study. Molecular Autism. 2011