Another day, another short post about a meta-analysis; this time based on the suggestion that maternal infection during the critical 'nine months that made us' might elevate the risk of offspring autism and reported on by Hai-yin Jiang and colleagues .
Based on the collected analysis of 15 peer-reviewed studies covering some 40,000 people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the authors concluded that yes, "maternal infection during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of ASD in offspring..., particularly among those requiring hospitalization." Said elevated risk was seemingly "modulated by the type of infectious agent, time of infectious exposure, and site of infection" and the authors suggest that: "Possible mechanisms may include direct effects of pathogens and, more indirectly, the effects of inflammatory responses on the developing brain."
This is an area of research that has been particularly interesting to this blog insofar as how various gestational exposures or their effect(s) on the maternal immune system for example, may impact on offspring developmental and behavioural outcomes. I've covered it a few times on this blog (see here and see here) including the idea that screening for agents such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) should seriously be considered as and when certain 'types' of autism might appear (see here). The associated idea that a maternal immune system already re-focused during pregnancy to accommodate a 'foreign entity' (the foetus) might under certain circumstances be involved in affecting offspring outcomes is also not a new one (see here for example). Further investigations are however required on the applicability of screening, the precise mechanisms involved in the physiology-to-behaviour relationship and whether specific types of intervention administered at critical times might even impact on any important chain of events...
 Jiang H-Y. et al. Maternal Infection during Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2016. June 7.
Jiang HY, Xu LL, Shao L, Xia RM, Yu ZH, Ling ZX, Yang F, Min-Deng, & Ruan B (2016). Maternal Infection during Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Brain, behavior, and immunity PMID: 27287966