Infection-Autism Link Explained?

A mouse study suggests a mechanism by which severe infections during pregnancy increase autism risk. 

Jef Akst
Jan 31, 2016

FLICKR, ANGELADELLATORREAn immune effector molecule called interleukin 17 (IL-17), produced as part of a mother’s inflammatory reaction to a pathogen, can interfere with her baby’s brain development, according to a mouse study published this week (January 28) in Science. Blocking IL-17 production in pregnant mice prevented the development of autism-like behaviors in their offspring. The results suggest a possible explanation for the fact that women in Denmark who were hospitalized due to an infection during their pregnancy were more likely to have a child with autism.

“In the mice, we could treat the mother with antibodies that block IL-17 after inflammation had set in, and that could ameliorate some of the behavioral symptoms that were observed in the offspring,” coauthor Gloria Choi, an assistant professor at MIT, said in a press release.

Choi’s former Caltech advisor, Paul Patterson, had previously discovered a link between the immune signaling...

“Our data suggest that therapeutic targeting of TH17 cells in susceptible pregnant mothers may reduce the likelihood of bearing children with inflammation-induced ASD [autism spectrum disorder]-like phenotypes,” the authors wrote in their paper.