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Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2014 Mar 7;5:29. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00029. eCollection 2014.

Neuro-immune abnormalities in autism and their relationship with the environment: a variable insult model for autism.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester , Manchester , UK.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous condition affecting an individual's ability to communicate and socialize and often presents with repetitive movements or behaviors. It tends to be severe with less than 10% achieving independent living with a marked variation in the progression of the condition. To date, the literature supports a multifactorial model with the largest, most detailed twin study demonstrating strong environmental contribution to the development of the condition. Here, we present a brief review of the neurological, immunological, and autonomic abnormalities in ASD focusing on the causative roles of environmental agents and abnormal gut microbiota. We present a working hypothesis attempting to bring together the influence of environment on the abnormal neurological, immunological, and neuroimmunological functions and we explain in brief how such pathophysiology can lead to, and/or exacerbate ASD symptomatology. At present, there is a lack of consistent findings relating to the neurobiology of autism. Whilst we postulate such variable findings may reflect the marked heterogeneity in clinical presentation and as such the variable findings may be of pathophysiological relevance, more research into the neurobiology of autism is necessary before establishing a working hypothesis. Both the literature review and hypothesis presented here explore possible neurobiological explanations with an emphasis of environmental etiologies and are presented with this bias.


autism spectrum disorder; environment; gut microbiota; neuro-immune; neuroinflammation

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