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Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Aug;23(8):1794-1797. doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.201. Epub 2017 Oct 10.

Social impairments in autism spectrum disorder are related to maternal immune history profile.

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Autism Clinical for Translational Research, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Children's Hospital Westmead, Westmead, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia.
Australian Proteome Analysis Facility, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Autism Clinical for Translational Research, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Maternal immune activation has been highlighted as a factor that might increase the risk and severity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. Preclinical animal evidence shows that immune activation in mothers during pregnancy causes ASD-like behavioural traits in offspring. To this point, there has been no investigation of whether immune system activation in human mothers during pregnancy is associated with more severe symptoms in children with ASD. In this study, data from an existing ASD cohort (N=220) were analysed to investigate whether immune conditions in the mother were associated with greater severity of autism-related symptoms. Results showed that children whose mothers reported a history of immune activation (allergies and asthma) had significantly higher scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS; P=0.016), suggesting more severe social impairment symptoms in these children. This increasing severity of social impairment symptoms was further shown on the SRS cognition (P=0.007) and mannerisms (P=0.002) subscales. While immune history was associated with an increase in the severity of social impairment symptoms, history of autoimmune conditions in the mother did not have any effect in this cohort. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to show an association between immune activation history in the mother and increased ASD symptom severity in children with ASD. These findings support the idea of an immune system-mediated subtype in ASD, where the immune history of the mother may be an important factor.

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