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Researchers Identify Possible Cause Of 1 In 4 Autism Cases


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Nearly a quarter of autism cases could be due to antibodies found in the mother’s blood during pregnancy that interfere with fetal brain development, researchers say.

In a study published this week in the journal Translational Psychiatry, researchers report that certain antibodies found almost exclusively in women with children who have autism may be affecting brain development during pregnancy.

The problematic antibodies could account for as many as 23 percent of all cases of the developmental disorder, the study found.

“These findings are incredibly important because they establish a cause for a significant portion of autism cases, thereby opening up new lines of inquiry into possible biological treatments,” said Leonard Abbeduto, director of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute where the research was conducted.

Typically, maternal antibodies enter the placenta to help ward off bacteria and other viruses. But in some cases, instead of extending immunity to the child, these antibodies become what are known as autoantibodies and attack healthy tissue.

For the study, researchers looked at blood samples from 246 mothers of children with autism and 149 mothers of children without the developmental disorder. They found that nearly 1 in 4 moms with a child on the spectrum had certain combinations of antibodies that target fetal brain proteins. The antibodies were found in less than 1 percent of mothers in the control group.

The finding could lead to a diagnostic test that could be given to mothers if they have a young child suspected of having autism, researchers said, allowing children to enter early intervention.

Such a test might also be used to assess a woman’s chance of having a kid with autism prior to becoming pregnant, they indicated.

“It is important to note that women have no control over whether or not they develop these autoantibodies, much like any other autoimmune disorder,” said Judy Van de Water, a researcher at the MIND Institute who led the study. “And, like other autoimmune disorders, we do not know what the initial trigger is that leads to their production.”

In a separate study that was published in the same journal, researchers injected pregnant monkeys with the antibodies spotted in many mothers of kids with autism and found that the exposure negatively affected behavior and development in the offspring.

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Comments (27 Responses)

  1. Regina says:

    This is about to be debunked too. Another waste of money that could be used in services. Instead, we are financing scientists who come up with yet another one of the “possible causes” for autism. We should just move on to practical things and support autistics, not try to find a way to eliminate them.

  2. Keith Caldwell says:

    I would be curious to know whether the fathers were also studied to see if they also had antibodies in their bodies that may also be a potential predictor? This is very promising research.

  3. Mom of 2 ASD says:

    Actually, that explains a lot including why there is a significant increase in the chance of having multiple children with the disorder. Question is now, has there been an increase in these autoantibodies in the last several years that correlates with the increase in Autism rates and what may have caused that increase.

  4. Rachel says:

    I did some research on this myself a number of years ago. I have Lupus and my second child has PDD. My autoimmune problems did not begin until after my first child but really came out after the second. I can certainly see how this could tie in to what they are researching. In addition there has been an increase in the instances of women diagnosed with autoimmune disorders at a similar level to children being diagnosed with Autism….. interesting correlation.

  5. autismUXB says:

    Another of the never ending “blame the mother” studies.

  6. Roseva says:

    In these studies of Mother’s who have autistic children, are the children severely autistic or do they have mild autistic symptoms like my Son. And how can I go about getting tested for these antibodies

  7. Sara says:

    I just want others to remember that there is NO ONE CAUSE for Autism, and although these antibodies may be part of the problem for some children diagnosed with Autism, it is certainly not going to be these antibodies alone. I speak as a mother of faternal twins in which only one has Autism. They obviously both were exposed to the exact same pregnancy conditions and blood antibodies, thus something else is going on…..

  8. Alyssa says:

    I had pre-eclampsia when I was pregnant with my son (he has autism). At that time one way of explaining pre-emclampsia was to say that the mother’s body was fighting the pregnancy. Nowadays one of the possible explanations is slightly different, but close enough to this article to be scary – that there’s a problem with the immune response, in that the body sees the placenta as a foreign object to be fought.

    The idea that mom’s autoimmune system could be attacking her baby/pregnancy in any way has always seemed horrifying to me. I mean, how could you protect that little one from his/her mother’s body?!

    I know some studies have been done looking for a link between ASD and pre-emclampsia, but this is the first I’ve seen examining the idea of antibodies vs babies apart from pre-emclampsia.

    I know that studies like this will do nothing for my son, but if it can prevent kids someday from being born with autism I still think the research should be continued.

    My apologies to those of you on here who take offense to the idea of treating autism as an illness or disability to be “fixed”. You are certainly entitled to your world view, and I’m happy for you that you’re high enough functioning to take part in these discussions, but please understand that many kids with autism are at a much lower functioning level, and therefore need our help and support (medical and otherwise).

  9. Laura Woodford says:

    The bigger picture about autoimmune disease is that our bodies have been so bombarded by toxins, pesticides, radiation, chemicals, gmos, and also not cared for otherwise as in poor nutrition, lack of exercise, too much stress and so forth, that the immune systems are failing.

  10. 2onthespectrum says:

    I read about this research a few years ago and I have always wondered if this was the cause of my 2 sons having autism. I have an auto immune disorder that causes my body to reject pregnancies and therefore causes me to miscarry. The “cure” for this was to have leukocyte therapy. After the leukocyte therapy, I was able to carry my son full term. This son has Asperger’s. The next son was conceived without leukocyte therapy, but doctor controlled my immune system with prednisone. This son has autism. Just something that has always made me wonder.

  11. Linda says:

    If this research leads to preventing even one family from experiencing the pain it can cause families, it’s worth it. I had HELP Syndrome(a variant) of preeclampsia, and can’t help but wonder about the connection. I have suspected that autism is partially autoimmune in nature. But I would also bet money that if you look at ms, Parkinson’s , Alzheimer’s , autism, that there is some myelin sheath connection.
    SO hopeful that someone will discover something that will improve the quality of life of my precious son, and all those affected.

  12. Angela jandera says:

    I would like to be tested, I want to help my son the best I can, we were told he has sensory processing disorder, so many sighns point to autism, I hear that sensory processing isent a diagnose , every day I see it harder and harder for my son, I just want to know so I can take the steps on the right path.

  13. Donna says:

    so…if this antibody is found in the mother’s body…why doesn’t every child she gives birth to develop autism?

  14. Donna says:

    Also…why weren’t the groups of mothers tested equal in numbers?

  15. C.L.Tegta. says:

    Large Nos. of researches are going on but the treatment of Autism is still awaited. Many years has gone, nothing has been achieved in Autism. The children /persons who are autistic cant live normal life. The Govt. should come forward with latest research by curing the Autism. Inspite of big Institute/ Scientist researches nothing has been achieved.

  16. Carol says:

    Regina, yes, I agree with you – in theory, however, the practical reality is this; less than 1 in ten autistics (no matter where on the ASD scale) will find more than menial, part-time work; autistic children are routinely bullied at school or victimized by so-called ‘friends’. While I have learned a lot from my autistic son (patience, is only one), it breaks my heart when he asks me if he will ever ‘get over [his] autism.’ He is a brilliant young man who will probably never realize his true potential because of the bigotry and discrimination he will face in the workforce. While he recognizes that the discrimination is based on ignorance, the result is the same for him – no job. Just sayin…

  17. verna says:

    what can i do to find out if this is why my son has autism .

  18. Fran says:

    How do you explain that a woman has the purported antibodies for one birth but then another at 23 months apart produces a neurotypical child? Actually, my first child who has Asperger’s now presented to be as neurotypical as any other child. It wasn’t until the first child was older that he began developing problems.

  19. patm says:

    They just don’t want to stop blaming mom for autism. It goes on and on.

  20. Karen says:

    How cruel to experiment on these poor animals! One day these “scientists” will be recognized for the barbarians they truly are.

  21. Paula C. Durbin-Westby says:

    Were any of the mothers in the study pregnant at the time, and if so, did any elect to terminate their pregnancy? I heard of one study where at least one mother chose to not carry the fetus to term, but the information from that study is not available to me. It was reported by a researcher at a conference. I hope this does not lead to preventing future generations of Autistic people. “Early intervention” for the sake of just intervening needs to be approach very carefully. We have already had Tom Insel at an IACC meeting a number of years ago saying “we can train toddlers to make eye contact” with very little idea of why it is we don’t make eye contact in the first place. Do no harm.

  22. stac says:

    I agree with sara because they me my brother he born 5 years before me I have autism he not have autism I agree with regina they not much services /programs for adults have autism they lots for children but not much for adults with more kids on autism they grow up not have much help like me and manny others

  23. Jon says:

    i understand that a lot of research is being conducted on mothers whom have autistic children and the environment that that the child spends its first ~40 weeks; what about the fathers? i know that mothers can pass alcohol through there blood to their unborn baby thereby possibly causing FAS. what’s to say that an intoxicated father won’t pass an autism “trigger” in his spem? i’m not sure; i think that in an effort to equally distribute parenting responsibilities, research should look at the other half required in conception.

  24. ambrose says:

    how do you get these test for the mother?

  25. Achsel says:

    I know, let’s shoot pregnant mothers up with more artificial vaccines that mess with the immune system and have never been tested on pregnant women! Its been working so well so far hasn’t it?
    Warning: This message is pure sarcasm!

  26. Elise says:

    There was at least one study this year showing that the probability of autisme increased with the age of the father.

  27. D Hendsbee says:

    The study says it shows up in about 1/4 of the cases, so it does indeed account for twins by clearly stating this is obviously not the only cause. If it attacks brain proteins, perhaps it depends on whether proteins in a certain region of the brain are affected, or during a particular time in the development of the fetus.

    I did see a study which linked the increasing age of the father to the incidence of autism. To call it a blame game is silly. A mother gestates the child. A father contributes 1 half of 1 cell. How could his antibodies possibly affect the pregnancy? Doesn’t make sense. No research is trying to “blame” anyone, but must be taken where it leads. I understand as mothers we often feel grief at our children’s disabilities, and desperately need someone to blame. As autism parents we need to realize that that is NOT PRODUCTIVE! Quit blaming, or trying to place the blame, or accusing others of blaming because the result of a study designed to help our children makes you feel icky inside.

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