Mom’s antibodies linked to development of autism

Times Staff Writer

Abnormal antibodies in maternal blood that bind to fetal brain cells may contribute to the development of autism, according to two studies from the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Immunologist Judy Van de Water and her colleagues isolated a form of antibody called immunoglobulin G, or IgG, from 61 mothers of autistic children and found that in seven cases, it bound to two proteins in fetal brain tissue. Six of those mothers had children with regressive autism, in which children appear to develop normally for the first year or two before developing symptoms such as loss of social or language skills.

The team also extracted IgG from 62 mothers whose children were healthy. None of those antibodies were able to bind to fetal tissue proteins.


Their results will be published in the March issue of the journal NeuroToxicology.

Following up on those findings, behavioral scientist David Amaral of UC Davis and colleagues from the California National Primate Research Center injected four rhesus monkeys with human IgG from mothers of autistic children three times near the end of the first trimester of the monkeys’ pregnancies.

All the offspring of the exposed monkeys demonstrated repetitive behaviors that are analogous to those exhibited by autistic children. The behaviors, called stereotypies, became more pronounced after weaning and were more striking when the animals were placed in unfamiliar settings.

The study “links exposure to abnormal immune system factors during pregnancy with specific behavioral outcomes in offspring,” Amaral said.

The study was published online Tuesday by the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.