Nav: Home

Pregnant mother's immunity tied to behavioral, emotional challenges for kids with autism

August 14, 2020

Children with autism born to mothers who had immune conditions during their pregnancy are more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems, a UC Davis Health study has found. The study examined maternal immune history as a predictor of symptoms in children with autism.

"We tested the ability of maternal immune history to predict ASD symptoms and the possible role that the sex of the offspring plays," said Paul Ashwood, professor of microbiology and immunology and faculty member at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Published Aug. 14 in Translational Psychiatry, the study found that offspring sex may interact with maternal immune conditions to influence outcomes, particularly in terms of a child's cognition.

Maternal immunity conditions and autism

Maternal immune conditions are caused by a dysfunction of the mother's immune system. They include allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, autoinflammatory syndromes and immunological deficiency syndromes. Previous studies have shown that maternal immune conditions are more prevalent in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The researchers enrolled 363 mothers and their children (252 males and 111 females) from the Autism Phenome Project (APP) and Girls with Autism Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) study at the UC Davis MIND Institute. The median age of the children was three years.

The researchers measured the children's autism severity and assessed a set of behavioral and emotional problems such as aggression and anxiety. They also measured the children's development and cognitive functioning.

The study found that around 27% of the mothers had immune conditions during their pregnancy. Of these mothers, 64% reported a history of asthma, the most common immune condition. Other frequent conditions included Hashimoto's thyroiditis (hypothyroidism), Raynaud's disease (blood circulation disease), alopecia (hair loss), psoriasis (skin disease) and rheumatoid arthritis (joint tissue inflammation).

The study also found that maternal immune conditions are associated with increased behavioral and emotional problems but not reduced cognitive functioning in children with autism.

Does the sex of the offspring interact with the influence of maternal immune conditions on autism symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ASD is four times more common among boys than among girls.

"Our study explored whether offspring sex interacts with the presence of maternal immune conditions to influence behavioral outcomes in children," said Ashwood. "Maternal immune conditions may be one environmental factor which contributes to the higher male prevalence seen in ASD."

The study found that a history of maternal immune conditions was more common in male children with ASD (31%) compared to female (18%). Specifically, asthma was twice as common in mothers of male children with ASD than in mothers of female children with ASD.

The study also showed that in cases of ASD where maternal immune conditions are present, female offspring are less likely to be susceptible to adverse cognitive outcomes in response to maternal inflammation than male offspring.

"This critical finding links offspring sex and maternal immune conditions to autism," said Ashwood. "It provides more evidence that male offspring are at higher risk of adverse outcomes due to maternal immunity activation compared to female offspring."

Future studies would include identifying the type, severity and gestational timing of immune conditions, and then examining offspring outcomes over time.
-end-
Co-authors on this study are Brianna Heath, Christine Nordahl and Sally Rogers in the department of psychiatry at UC Davis and at the UC Davis MIND Institute, Destanie Rose in the department of medical microbiology and immunology and at the UC Davis MIND Institute, Shrujna Patel, Russell Dale and Adam Guastella in the Children's Hospital Westmead Clinical School at the University of Sydney.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health (RO1MH118209, RO1HD090214, R21MH116383, R21ES025560; RO1MH104438), Grace Gardner Johnson and Jane B. Johnson, Autism Speaks Foundation, Autism Research Institute, the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) Pilot Translational and Clinical Studies Program, a Child/Lifespan Health Award. This project was also supported by the UC Davis MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) (U54HD079125).

Article: Patel, S., Dale, R.C., Rose, D. et al. Maternal immune conditions are increased in males with autism spectrum disorders and are associated with behavioural and emotional but not cognitive co-morbidity. Translational Psychiatry 10, 286 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-00976-2

University of California - Davis Health

Related Autism Articles:

Autism-cholesterol link
Study identifies genetic link between cholesterol alterations and autism.
National Autism Indicators Report: the connection between autism and financial hardship
A.J. Drexel Autism Institute released the 2020 National Autism Indicators Report highlighting the financial challenges facing households of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including higher levels of poverty, material hardship and medical expenses.
Autism risk estimated at 3 to 5% for children whose parents have a sibling with autism
Roughly 3 to 5% of children with an aunt or uncle with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can also be expected to have ASD, compared to about 1.5% of children in the general population, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Adulthood with autism
The independence that comes with growing up can be scary for any teenager, but for young adults with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers, the transition from adolescence to adulthood can seem particularly daunting.
Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.
Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Falling
There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.