Several epidemiological studies have shown an association between infection or inflammation during pregnancy and increased risk of autism in the child. In addition, animal models have illustrated that maternal inflammation during gestation can cause autism-relevant behaviors in the offspring; so called maternal immune activation (MIA) models. More recently, permanent changes in T cell cytokine responses were reported in children with autism and in offspring of MIA mice; however, the cytokine responses of other immune cell populations have not been thoroughly investigated in these MIA models. Similar to changes in T cell function, we hypothesized that following MIA, offspring will have long-term changes in macrophage function. To test this theory, we utilized the poly (I:C) MIA mouse model in C57BL/6J mice and examined macrophage cytokine production in adult offspring. Pregnant dams were given either a single injection of 20 mg/kg polyinosinic–polycytidylic acid, poly (I:C), or saline delivered intraperitoneally on gestational day 12.5. When offspring of poly (I:C) treated dams reached 10 weeks of age, femurs were collected and bone marrow-derived macrophages were generated. Cytokine production was measured in bone marrow-derived macrophages incubated for 24 h in either growth media alone, LPS, IL-4/LPS, or IFN-γ/LPS. Following stimulation with LPS alone, or the combination of IFN-γ/LPS, macrophages from offspring of poly (I:C) treated dams produced higher levels of IL-12(p40) (p < 0.04) suggesting an increased M1 polarization. In addition, even without the presence of a polarizing cytokine or LPS stimulus, macrophages from offspring of poly (I:C) treated dams exhibited a higher production of CCL3 (p = 0.05). Moreover, CCL3 levels were further increased when stimulated with LPS, or polarized with either IL-4/LPS or IFN-γ/LPS (p < 0.05) suggesting a general increase in production of this chemokine. Collectively, these data suggest that MIA can produce lasting changes in macrophage function that are sustained into adulthood.
MIA; Maternal; Immune activation; Macrophage; M1; M2; Mouse; Autism; Behavior; Inflammation
The pathophysiology of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not yet known; however, studies suggest that dysfunction of the immune system affects many children with ASD. Increasing evidence points to dysfunction of the innate immune system including activation of microglia and perivascular macrophages, increases in inflammatory cytokines/chemokines in brain tissue and CSF, and abnormal peripheral monocyte cell function. Dendritic cells are major players in innate immunity and have important functions in the phagocytosis of pathogens or debris, antigen presentation, activation of naïve T cells, induction of tolerance and cytokine/chemokine production. In this study, we assessed circulating frequencies of myeloid dendritic cells (defined as Lin-1−BDCA1+CD11c+ and Lin-1−BDCA3+CD123−) and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (Lin-1− BDCA2+CD123+ or Lin-1−BDCA4+ CD11c−) in 57 children with ASD, and 29 typically developing controls of the same age, all of who were enrolled as part of the Autism Phenome Project (APP). The frequencies of dendritic cells and associations with behavioral assessment and MRI measurements of amygdala volume were compared in the same participants. The frequencies of myeloid dendritic cells were significantly increased in children with ASD compared to typically developing controls (p < 0.03). Elevated frequencies of myeloid dendritic cells were positively associated with abnormal right and left amygdala enlargement, severity of gastrointestinal symptoms and increased repetitive behaviors. The frequencies of plasmacytoid dendritic cells were also associated with amygdala volumes as well as developmental regression in children with ASD. Dendritic cells play key roles in modulating immune responses and differences in frequencies or functions of these cells may result in immune dysfunction in children with ASD. These data further implicate innate immune cells in the complex pathophysiology of ASD.
Autism; dendritic cells; repetitive behaviors; amygdala volume; innate immunity
The maternal immune system may play a role in offspring neurodevelopment. We examined whether maternal autoimmune disease, asthma, and allergy were associated with child autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delay without autism (DD) using 560 ASD cases, 391 typically developing controls, and 168 DD cases from the CHildhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. Results from conditional logistic regression demonstrated few significant associations overall. Maternal autoimmune disease was significantly associated with a modest increase in odds of developmental disorders (combined ASD + DD; OR = 1.46, 95 % CI 1.01, 2.09) but not of ASD alone. Associations with certain allergens and onset periods were also suggested. These findings suggest maternal autoimmune disease may modestly influence childhood developmental disorders (ASD + DD).
Autoimmune disease; Asthma; Allergy; Autism; Developmental delay; Maternal risk factors
The relative risk of immune-mediated disorders (IMDs) among women carrier of premutation alleles is estimated by a survey for IMDs among 344 carrier women (age 19 to 81 years; mean 46.35 and SD 12.60) and 72 controls (age 18 to 87 years; mean 52.40 and SD 15.40). One hundred fifty four (44.77%) women carrier had at least one IMD, as did 20 controls (27.78%). Among women carrier, autoimmune thyroid disorder was the most common (24.4%), then fibromyalgia (10.2%), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; 9.9%), Raynaud’s phenomenon (7.6%), rheumatoid arthritis (RA; 3.8%), Sjögren syndrome (2.6%), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE; 2.03%), multiple sclerosis (1.74%). Of 55 carriers age 40 or older with FXTAS, 72.73% had at least one IMD, compared to 46.54% of those without FXTAS (n=159), and 31.58% of controls (n=57). The estimated odds ratio (OR) for IMD is 2.6 (95% CI 1.2–5.6, p = 0.015) for women with FXTAS relative to those without FXTAS; the likelihood of IMD in carriers without or with FXTAS was also significantly higher than for controls (OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.1–4.2, p = 0.034; OR 5.5, 95% CI 2.4–12.5, p < 0.001 respectively). Similarly, the odds of having an IMD among carriers with FXPOI is about 2.4 times higher when compared to carriers without FXPOI (95% CI 1.1–5.0; p = 0.021). The likelihood of IMD in carriers with or without FXPOI is greater (OR 2.4, 95% CI 1.1–5.0; p = 0.021) compared to that of controls.
Autoimmune; FXTAS; RNA toxicity; ovarian insufficiency
Biologic markers of infection and inflammation have been associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) but prior studies have largely relied on specimens taken after clinical diagnosis. Research on potential biologic markers early in neurodevelopment is required to evaluate possible causal pathways and screening profiles.
To investigate levels of cytokines and chemokines in newborn blood specimens as possible early biologic markers for autism.
We conducted a population-based case-control study nested within the cohort of infants born from July 2000 to September 2001 to women who participated in the prenatal screening program in Orange County, California, USA. The study population included children ascertained from the California Department of Developmental Services with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD, n = 84), or developmental delay but not ASD (DD, n = 49), and general population controls randomly sampled from the birth certificate files and frequency matched to ASD cases on sex, birth month and birth year (GP, n = 159). Cytokine and chemokine concentrations were measured in archived neonatal blood specimens collected for routine newborn screening.
Cytokines were not detected in the vast majority of newborn samples regardless of case or control status. However, the chemokine monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) was elevated and the chemokine Regulated upon Activation Normal T-Cell Expressed and Secreted (RANTES) was decreased in ASD cases compared to GP controls. The chemokines macrophage inflammatory protein-1alpha (MIP-1α) and RANTES were decreased in children with DD compared to GP controls.
Measurement of immune system function in the first few days of life may aid in the early identification of abnormal neurodevelopment and shed light on the biologic mechanisms underlying normal neurodevelopment.
Newborn; Cytokines; Chemokines; Autism spectrum disorders
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the leading cause of inheritable intellectual disability in male children, and is predominantly caused by a single gene mutation resulting in expanded trinucleotide CGG-repeats within the 5’ untranslated region of the fragile X mental retardation (FMR1) gene. Reports have suggested the presence of immune dysregulation in FXS with evidence of altered plasma cytokine levels; however, no studies have directly assessed functional cellular immune responses in children with FXS. In order to ascertain if immune dysregulation is present in children with FXS, dynamic cellular responses to immune stimulation were examined.
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were from male children with FXS (n = 27) and from male aged-matched typically developing (TD) controls (n = 8). PBMC were cultured for 48 hours in media alone or with lipopolysaccharides (LPS; 1 μg/mL) to stimulate the innate immune response or with phytohemagglutinin (PHA; 8 μg/mL) to stimulate the adaptive T-cell response. Additionally, the group I mGluR agonist, DHPG, was added to cultures to ascertain the role of mGluR signaling in the immune response in subject with FXS. Supernatants were harvested and cytokine levels were assessed using Luminex multiplexing technology.
Children with FXS displayed similar innate immune response following challenge with LPS alone when compared with TD controls; however, when LPS was added in the presence of a group I mGluR agonist, DHPG, increased immune response were observed in children with FXS for a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL-6 (P = 0.02), and IL-12p40 (P < 0.01). Following PHA stimulation, with or without DHPG, no significant differences between subjects with FXS and TD were seen.
In unstimulated cultures, subjects with FXS did not display altered dynamic immune response to LPS or PHA alone; however, subjects with FXS showed an altered response to co-current stimulation of LPS and DHPG, such that subjects with FXS failed to inhibit production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting a role of group I mGluR signaling in innate immune responses in FXS.
Fragile x syndrome; Immune; Cytokine; Metabotropic glutamate receptor
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is very heterogeneous and multiple subtypes and etiologies likely exist. The maternal immune system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of some forms of ASD. Previous studies have identified the presence of specific maternal IgG autoantibodies with reactivity to fetal brain proteins at 37 and 73KDa in up to 12% of mothers of children with ASD. The current study evaluates the presence of these autoantibodies in an independent cohort of mothers of 181 preschool-aged male children (131 ASD, 50 typically developing [TD] controls). We also investigated whether ASD children born to mothers with these autism-specific maternal IgG autoantibodies exhibit a distinct neural phenotype by evaluating total brain volume using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Of the 131 ASD children, 10 (7.6%) were born to mothers with the 37/73Kda IgG autoantibodies (ASD-IgG). The mothers of the remaining ASD children and all TD controls were negative for these paired autoantibodies. While both ASD groups exhibited abnormal brain enlargement that is commonly observed in this age range, the ASD-IgG group exhibited a more extreme 12.1% abnormal brain enlargement relative to the TD controls. In contrast, the remaining ASD children exhibited a smaller 4.4% abnormal brain enlargement relative to TD controls. Lobar and tissue type analyses revealed that the frontal lobe is selectively enlarged in the ASD-IgG group and that both gray and white matter are similarly affected. These results suggest that maternal autoantibodies associated with autism spectrum disorder may impact brain development leading to abnormal enlargement.
Autism spectrum disorder; MRI; structural neuroimaging; maternal antibody; autoantibody
Increased rates of autoinflammatory and autoimmune disorders have been observed in female premutation carriers of CGG repeat expansion alleles of between 55–200 repeats in the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene. To determine whether an abnormal immune profile was present at a cellular level that may predispose female carriers to autoinflammatory conditions, we investigated dynamic cytokine production following stimulation of blood cells. In addition, splenocyte responses were examined in an FMR1 CGG knock-in mouse model of the fragile X premutation.
Human monocyte and peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) were isolated from the blood of 36 female FMR1 premutation carriers and 15 age-matched controls. Cells were cultured with media alone, LPS or PHA. In the animal model, splenocytes were isolated from 32 CGG knock-in mice and 32 wild type littermates. Splenocytes were cultured with media alone or LPS or PMA/Ionomycin. Concentrations of cytokines (GM-CSF, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, IL-13, IL-17, IFNγ, TNFα, and MCP-1) were determined from the supernatants of cellular cultures via Luminex multiplex assay. Additionally, phenotypic cellular markers were assessed on cells isolated from human subjects via flow cytometry.
We found decreases in cytokine production in human premutation carriers as well as in the FMR1 knock-in mice when compared with controls. Levels of cytokines were found to be associated with CGG repeat length in both human and mouse. Furthermore, T cells from human premutation carriers showed decreases in cell surface markers of activation when compared with controls.
In this study, FMR1 CGG repeat expansions are associated with decreased immune responses and immune dysregulation in both humans and mice. Deficits in immune responses in female premutation carriers may lead to increased susceptibility to autoimmunity and further research is warranted to determine the link between FMR1 CGG repeat lengths and onset of autoinflammatory conditions.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental diseases that affect an alarming number of individuals. The etiological basis of ASD is unclear, and evidence suggests it involves both genetic and environmental factors. There are many reports of cytokine imbalances in ASD. These imbalances could have a pathogenic role, or they may be markers of underlying genetic and environmental influences. Cytokines act primarily as mediators of immunological activity, but they also have significant interactions with the nervous system. They participate in normal neural development and function, and inappropriate activity can have a variety of neurological implications. It is therefore possible that cytokine dysregulation contributes directly to neural dysfunction in ASD. Further, cytokine profiles change dramatically in the face of infection, disease, and toxic exposures. Therefore, imbalances may represent an immune response to environmental contributors to ASD. The following review is presented in two main parts. First, we discuss select cytokines implicated in ASD, including IL-1Β, IL-6, IL-4, IFN-γ, and TGF-Β, and focus on their role in the nervous system. Second, we explore several neurotoxic environmental factors that may be involved in the disorders, and focus on their immunological impacts. This review represents an emerging model that recognizes the importance of both genetic and environmental factors in ASD etiology. We propose that the immune system provides critical clues regarding the nature of the gene by environment interactions that underlie ASD pathophysiology.
Autism spectrum disorder; cytokine; toxicant; immunology; environment; neurodevelopment
Although the etiopathology of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not clear there is increasing evidence that dysfunction in the immune system affects many children with ASD. Findings of immune dysfunction in ASD include increases in inflammatory cytokines, chemokines and microglial activity in brain tissue and CSF, as well as abnormal peripheral immune cell function.
Adhesion molecules, such as platelet endothelial adhesion molecule-1 (PECAM-1), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), P-Selectin, and L-Selectin, function to facilitate leukocyte transendothelial migration. We assessed concentrations of soluble adhesion molecules, sPECAM-1, sICAM-1, sVCAM-1, sP-Selectin, and sL-Selectin in the plasma of 49 participants with ASD, and 31 typically developing controls of the same age, all of whom were enrolled as part of the Autism Phenome Project (APP). Behavioral assessment, the levels of soluble adhesion molecules, head circumference and MRI measurements of brain volume were compared in the same subjects.
Levels of sPECAM-1 and sP-Selectin were significantly reduced in the ASD group compared to typically developing controls (p < 0.02). Soluble PECAM-1 levels were negatively associated with repetitive behavior and abnormal brain growth in children with ASD (p=0.03).
As adhesion molecules modulate the permeability and signaling at the blood brain barrier as well as leukocyte infiltration into the CNS, current data suggests a role for these molecules in the complex pathophysiology of ASD.
Autism; PECAM-1; P-Selectin; CD31; CD62-P; Adhesion
Autism spectrum disorders are a heterogeneous group of behaviorally defined disorders having complex etiologies. We previously reported a direct correlation between lower plasma levels of the immunoglobulins (Ig) IgG and IgM and increased severity of behavioral symptoms in children with autism. Our current objective was to determine if these reduced plasma levels of IgG and IgM are the result of defective B cell development, activation, or function. Results suggest no differences in the B cell parameters measured, indicating that decreased Ig in autism is not a result of B cell dysfunction and other immune cells might be involved.
Autism; B cell; Immunoglobulin; Immune system
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairments in communication, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors. While the etiology of ASD is complex and likely involves the interplay of genetic and environmental factors, growing evidence suggests that immune dysfunction and the presence of autoimmune responses including autoantibodies may play a role in ASD. Anti-phospholipid antibodies are believed to occur from both genetic and environmental factors and have been linked to a number of neuropsychiatric symptoms such as cognitive impairments, anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. In the current study, we investigated whether there were elevated levels of anti-phospholipid antibodies in a cross-sectional analysis of plasma of young children with ASD compared to age-matched typically developing (TD) controls and children with developmental delays (DD) other than ASD. We found that levels of anti-cardiolipin, β2-glycoprotein 1, and anti-phosphoserine antibodies were elevated in children with ASD compared with age-matched TD and DD controls. Further, the increase in antibody levels was associated with more impaired behaviors reported by parents. This study provides the first evidence for elevated production of anti-phospholipid antibodies in young children with ASD and provides a unique avenue for future research into determining possible pathogenic mechanisms that may underlie some cases of ASD.
Autism together with Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified form a spectrum of conditions (autism spectrum disorders or ASD) that is characterized by disturbances in social behavior, impaired communication and the presence of stereotyped behaviors or circumscribed interests. Recent estimates indicate a prevalence of ASD of 1 per 150 (Kuehn, 2007). The cause(s) of most cases of ASD are unknown but there is an emerging consensus that ASD have multiple etiologies. One proposed cause of ASD is exposure of the fetal brain to maternal autoantibodies during pregnancy [Dalton, P., Deacon, R., Blamire, A., Pike, M., McKinlay, I., Stein, J., Styles, P., Vincent, A., 2003. Maternal neuronal antibodies associated with autism and a language disorder. Ann. Neurol. 53, 533–537]. To provide evidence for this hypothesis, four rhesus monkeys were exposed prenatally to human IgG collected from mothers of multiple children diagnosed with ASD. Four control rhesus monkeys were exposed to human IgG collected from mothers of multiple typically developing children. Five additional monkeys were untreated controls. Monkeys were observed in a variety of behavioral paradigms involving unique social situations. Behaviors were scored by trained observers and overall activity was monitored with actimeters. Rhesus monkeys gestationally exposed to IgG class antibodies from mothers of children with ASD consistently demonstrated increased whole-body stereotypies across multiple testing paradigms. These monkeys were also hyperactive compared to controls. Treatment with IgG purified from mothers of typically developing children did not induce stereotypical or hyperactive behaviors. These findings support the potential for an autoimmune etiology in a subgroup of patients with neurodevelopmental disorders. This research raises the prospect of prenatal evaluation for neurodevelopmental risk factors and the potential for preventative therapeutics.
Repetitive; Primate; Macaque; Macaca mulatta; Activity; Asperger syndrome
Maternal immune activation (MIA) is a potential risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia (SZ). In rodents, MIA results in changes in cytokine profiles and abnormal behaviors in the offspring that model these neuropsychiatric conditions. Given the central role that mitochondria have in immunity and other metabolic pathways, we hypothesized that MIA will result in a fetal imprinting that leads to postnatal deficits in the bioenergetics of immune cells. To this end, splenocytes from adult offspring exposed gestationally to the viral mimic poly(I:C) were evaluated for mitochondrial outcomes. A significant decrease in mitochondrial ATP production was observed in poly(I:C)-treated mice (45% of controls) mainly attributed to a lower complex I activity. No differences were observed between the two groups in the coupling of electron transport to ATP synthesis, or the oxygen uptake under uncoupling conditions. Concanavalin A- (ConA-) stimulated splenocytes from poly(I:C) animals showed no statistically significant changes in cytokine levels compared to controls. The present study reports for the first time that MIA activation by poly(I:C) at early gestation, which can lead to behavioral impairments in the offspring similar to SZ and ASD, leads to long-lasting effects in the bioenergetics of splenocytes of adult offspring.
Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder. At present there are no defined mechanisms of pathogenesis and therapy is mostly limited to behavioral interventions. Stem cell transplantation may offer a unique treatment strategy for autism due to immune and neural dysregulation observed in this disease. This non-randomized, open-label, single center phase I/II trial investigated the safety and efficacy of combined transplantation of human cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMNCs) and umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UCMSCs) in treating children with autism.
37 subjects diagnosed with autism were enrolled into this study and divided into three groups: CBMNC group (14 subjects, received CBMNC transplantation and rehabilitation therapy), Combination group (9 subjects, received both CBMNC and UCMSC transplantation and rehabilitation therapy), and Control group (14 subjects, received only rehabilitation therapy). Transplantations included four stem cell infusions through intravenous and intrathecal injections once a week. Treatment safety was evaluated with laboratory examinations and clinical assessment of adverse effects. The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale and Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) were adopted to assess the therapeutic efficacy at baseline (pre-treatment) and following treatment.
There were no significant safety issues related to the treatment and no observed severe adverse effects. Statistically significant differences were shown on CARS, ABC scores and CGI evaluation in the two treatment groups compared to the control at 24 weeks post-treatment (p < 0.05).
Transplantation of CBMNCs demonstrated efficacy compared to the control group; however, the combination of CBMNCs and UCMSCs showed larger therapeutic effects than the CBMNC transplantation alone. There were no safety issues noted during infusion and the whole monitoring period.
ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01343511, Title “Safety and Efficacy of Stem Cell Therapy in Patients with Autism”.
Autism; Cord blood mononuclear cell; Umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell; Cell transplantation
There has been significant advancement in various aspects of scientific knowledge concerning the role of cerebellum in the etiopathogenesis of autism. In the current consensus paper, we will observe the diversity of opinions regarding the involvement of this important site in the pathology of autism. Recent emergent findings in literature related to cerebellar involvement in autism are discussed, including: cerebellar pathology, cerebellar imaging and symptom expression in autism, cerebellar genetics, cerebellar immune function, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, GABAergic and glutamatergic systems, cholinergic, dopaminergic, serotonergic, and oxytocin related changes in autism, motor control and cognitive deficits, cerebellar coordination of movements and cognition, gene-environment interactions, therapeutics in autism and relevant animal models of autism. Points of consensus include presence of abnormal cerebellar anatomy, abnormal neurotransmitter systems, oxidative stress, cerebellar motor and cognitive deficits, and neuroinflammation in subjects with autism. Undefined areas or areas requiring further investigation include lack of treatment options for core symptoms of autism, vermal hypoplasia and other vermal abnormalities as a consistent feature of autism, mechanisms underlying cerebellar contributions to cognition, and unknown mechanisms underlying neuroinflammation.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a single-gene disorder with a broad spectrum of involvement and a strong association with autism. Altered immune responses have been described in autism and there is potential that in children with FXS and autism, an abnormal immune response may play a role.
To delineate specific patterns of cytokine/chemokine profiles in individuals with FXS with and without autism and to compare them with typical developing controls.
Age matched male subjects were recruited through the M.I.N.D. Institute and included: 19 typically developing controls, 64 subjects with FXS without autism and 40 subjects with FXS and autism. Autism diagnosis was confirmed with ADOS, ADI-R and DSM IV criteria. Plasma was isolated and cytokine and chemokine production was assessed by Luminex multiplex analysis.
Preliminary observations indicate significant differences in plasma protein levels of a number of cytokines, including IL-1alpha, and the chemokines; RANTES and IP-10, between the FXS group and the typical developing controls (p<0.01). In addition, significant differences were observed between the FXS group with autism and the FXS without autism for IL-6, Eotaxin, MCP-1 (p<0.04).
In this study, the first of its kind, we report a significantly altered cytokine profile in FXS. The characterization of an immunological profile in FXS with and without autism may help to elucidate if an abnormal immune response may play a role and help to identify mechanisms important in the etiology of autism both with and without FXS.
Autism; Fragile X; cytokines; chemokines
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a complex group of neurodevelopmental disorders encompassing impairments in communication, social interactions and restricted stereotypical behaviors. Although a link between altered immune responses and ASD was first recognized nearly 40 years ago, only recently has new evidence started to shed light on the complex multifaceted relationship between immune dysfunction and behavior in ASD. Neurobiological research in ASD has highlighted pathways involved in neural development, synapse plasticity, structural brain abnormalities, cognition and behavior. At the same time, several lines of evidence point to altered immune dysfunction in ASD that directly impacts some or all these neurological processes. Extensive alterations in immune function have now been described in both children and adults with ASD, including ongoing inflammation in brain specimens, elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine profiles in the CSF and blood, increased presence of brain-specific auto-antibodies and altered immune cell function. Furthermore, these dysfunctional immune responses are associated with increased impairments in behaviors characteristic of core features of ASD, in particular, deficits in social interactions and communication. This accumulating evidence suggests that immune processes play a key role in the pathophysiology of ASD. This review will discuss the current state of our knowledge of immune dysfunction in ASD, how these findings may impact on underlying neuro-immune mechanisms and implicate potential areas where the manipulation of the immune response could have an impact on behavior and immunity in ASD.
Although autism is a behaviorally defined disorder, many studies report an association with increased pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Recent characterization of the BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) inbred mouse strain has revealed several behavioral characteristics including social deficits, repetitive behavior, and atypical vocalizations which may be relevant to autism. We therefore hypothesized that, asocial BTBR mice, which exhibit autism-like behaviors, may have an inflammatory immune profile similar to that observed in children with autism. The objectives of this study were to characterize the myeloid immune profile of BTBR mice and to explore their associations with autism-relevant behaviors. C57BL/6J (C57) mice and BTBR mice were tested for social interest and repetitive self-grooming behavior. Cytokine production was measured in bone-marrow derived macrophages incubated for 24 h in either growth media alone, LPS, IL-4/LPS, or IFNγ/LPS to ascertain any M1/M2 skewing. After LPS stimulation, BTBR macrophages produced higher levels of IL-6, MCP-1, and MIP-1α and lower IL-10 (p < 0.01) than C57 mice, suggesting an exaggerated inflammatory profile. After exposure to IL-4/LPS BTBR macrophages produced less IL-10 (p < 0.01) than C57 macrophages and more IL-12p40 (p < 0.01) suggesting poor M2 polarization. Levels of IL-12(p70) (p < 0.05) were higher in BTBR macrophages after IFNγ/LPS stimulation, suggesting enhanced M1 polarization. We further observed a positive correlation between grooming frequency, and production of IL-12(p40), IL-12p70, IL-6, and TNFα (p < 0.05) after treatment with IFNγ/LPS across both strains. Collectively, these data suggest that the asocial BTBR mouse strain exhibits a more inflammatory, or M1, macrophage profile in comparison to the social C57 strain. We have further demonstrated a relationship between this relative increase in inflammation and repetitive grooming behavior, which may have relevance to repetitive and stereotyped behavior of autism.
autism; BTBR; behavior; immune system; inflammation; macrophage; M1; M2
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. A potential etiologic role for immune dysfunction in ASD has been suggested. Dynamic adaptive cellular immune function was investigated in 66 children with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD and 73 confirmed typically developing (TD) controls 2–5 years-of-age. In vitro stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with PHA and tetanus was used to compare group-associated cellular responses. The production of GM-CSF, TNFα, and IL-13 were significantly increased whereas IL-12p40 was decreased following PHA stimulation in ASD relative to TD controls. Induced cytokine production was associated with altered behaviors in ASD children such that increased pro-inflammatory or TH1 cytokines were associated with greater impairments in core features of ASD as well as aberrant behaviors. In contrast, production of GM-CSF and TH2 cytokines were associated with better cognitive and adaptive function. Following stimulation, the frequency of CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells expressing activation markers CD134 and CD25 but not CD69, HLA-DR or CD137 were significantly reduced in ASD, and suggests an altered activation profile for T cells in ASD. Overall these data indicate significantly altered adaptive cellular immune function in children with ASD that may reflect dysfunctional immune activation, along with evidence that these perturbations may be linked to disturbances in behavior and developmental functioning. Further longitudinal analyzes of cellular immunity profiles would delineate the relationship between immune dysfunction and the progression of behavioral and developmental changes throughout the course of this disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder estimated to affect 1 in 110 children in the U.S., yet the pathology of this disorder is not fully understood. Abnormal levels of several growth factors have been demonstrated in adults with ASD, including epidermal growth factor (EGF) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF). Both of these growth factors serve important roles in neurodevelopment and immune function. In this study, concentrations of EGF and HGF were assessed in the plasma of 49 children with ASD aged 2–4 years old and 31 typically developing controls of a similar age as part of the Autism Phenome Project (APP). Levels of EGF were significantly reduced in the ASD group compared to typically developing controls (P = 0.003). There were no significant differences in HGF levels in young children with ASD and typically developing controls. EGF plays an important role in regulating neural growth, proliferation, differentiation and migration, and reduced levels of this molecule may negatively impact neurodevelopment in young children with ASD.
A role for immune dysfunction has been suggested in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Elevated levels of chemokines have been detected in the brain and CSF of individuals with ASD but, to date, no study has examined chemokine levels in the plasma of children with this disorder. In the current study, we determined whether there were differential profiles of chemokines in the plasma of children with ASD compared to age-matched typically developing controls and children with developmental disabilities other than ASD. Increased MCP-1, RANTES and eotaxin levels were observed in ASD children compared with both control groups (p<0.03), and increased chemokine production was associated with higher aberrant behavior scores and more impaired developmental and adaptive function.. Elevated MCP-1, RANTES and eotaxin in some ASD children and their association with more impaired behaviors may have etiological significance. Chemokines and their receptors might provide unique targets for future therapies in ASD.
Autism is a heterogeneous disorder with a poorly understood biological basis. Some children with autism harbor plasma autoantibodies that target brain proteins. Similarly, some mothers of children with autism produce antibodies specific to autism that target pairs of fetal brain proteins at 37/73 kDa and 39/73kDa. We explored the relationship between the presence of brain-specific autoantibodies and several behavioral characteristics of autism in 277 children with an autism spectrum disorder and 189 typically developing age-matched controls. Further, we used maternal autoantibody data to investigate potential familial relationships for the production of brain-directed autoantibodies. We demonstrated by western blot that autoantibodies specific for a 45kDa cerebellar protein in children were associated with a diagnosis of autism (p=0.017) while autoantibodies directed towards a 62kDa protein were associated with the broader diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (p=0.043). Children with such autoantibodies had lower adaptive (p=0.0008) and cognitive function (p=0.005), as well as increased aberrant behaviors (p<0.05) compared to children without these antibodies. No correlation was noted for those mothers with the most specific pattern of anti-fetal brain autoantibodies and children with the autoantibodies to either the 45 or 62 kDa bands. Collectively, these data suggest that antibodies towards brain proteins in children are associated with lower adaptive and cognitive function as well as core behaviors associated with autism. It is unclear whether these antibodies have direct pathologic significance, or if they are merely a response to previous injury. Future studies are needed to determine the identities of the protein targets and explore their significance in autism.
Autism spectrum disorders; immune system; immunoglobulin; autoantibody; brain; cerebellum; neurodevelopment; behavior
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. A potential role for immune dysfunction has been suggested in ASD. To test this hypothesis, we investigated evidence of differential cytokine release in plasma samples obtained from 2-5 year-old children with ASD compared with age-matched typically developing (TD) children and children with developmental disabilities other than autism (DD). Participants were recruited as part of the population based case-control CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) study and included: 97 participants with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD using standard assessments (DSM IV criteria and ADOS, ADI-R), 87 confirmed TD controls, and 39 confirmed DD controls. Plasma was isolated and cytokine production was assessed by multiplex Luminex™ analysis. Observations indicate significant increases in plasma levels of a number of cytokines, including IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-12p40 in the ASD group compared with TD controls (p < 0.04). Moreover, when the ASD group was separated based on the onset of symptoms, it was noted that the increased cytokine levels were predominantly in ASD children who had a regressive form of ASD. In addition, increasing cytokine levels were associated with more impaired communication and aberrant behaviors. In conclusion, using larger number of participants than previous studies, we report significantly shifted cytokine profiles in ASD. These findings suggest that ongoing inflammatory responses may be linked to disturbances in behavior and require confirmation in larger replication studies. The characterization of immunological parameters in ASD has important implications for diagnosis, and should be considered when designing therapeutic strategies to treat core symptoms and behavioral impairments of ASD.