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mSphere. 2017 Feb 22;2(1). pii: e00016-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00016-17. eCollection 2017 Jan-Feb.

Maternal Immunoreactivity to Herpes Simplex Virus 2 and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Male Offspring.

Author information

1
Center for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA; Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.
2
Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.
3
Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA; New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
4
Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway; Nic Waals Institute, Lovisenberg Hospital, Oslo, Norway.
5
Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
6
Center for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
7
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
8
Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway; Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
9
Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway; Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.
10
Center for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA; Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.

Abstract

Maternal infections during pregnancy are associated with risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Proposed pathogenetic mechanisms include fetal infection, placental inflammation, and maternal cytokines or antibodies that cross the placenta. The Autism Birth Cohort comprises mothers, fathers, and offspring recruited in Norway in 1999 to 2008. Through questionnaire screening, referrals, and linkages to a national patient registry, 442 mothers of children with ASD were identified, and 464 frequency-matched controls were selected. Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and HSV-2 in plasma collected at midpregnancy and after delivery were measured by multiplexed immunoassays. High levels of HSV-2 IgG antibodies in maternal midpregnancy plasma were associated with increased risk of ASD in male offspring (an increase in HSV-2 IgG levels from 240 to 640 arbitrary units/ml was associated with an odds ratio of 2.07; 95% confidence interval, 1.06 to 4.06; P = 0.03) when adjusted for parity and child's birth year. No association was found between ASD and the presence of IgG antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, CMV, or HSV-1. Additional studies are needed to test for replicability of risk and specificity of the sex effect and to examine risk associated with other infections. IMPORTANCE The cause (or causes) of most cases of autism spectrum disorder is unknown. Evidence from epidemiological studies and work in animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders suggest that both genetic and environmental factors may be implicated. The latter include gestational infection and immune activation. In our cohort, high levels of antibodies to herpes simplex virus 2 at midpregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder in male offspring. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that gestational infection may contribute to the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorder and have the potential to drive new efforts to monitor women more closely for cryptic gestational infection and to implement suppressive therapy during pregnancy.

KEYWORDS:

autism; birth cohort; herpes simplex virus; infection; prenatal; serology

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