Large-scale study links autism and autoimmunity

Sept. 5, 2013

A large-scale study of more than 2,700 mothers of children with autism shows that about one in 10 mothers have antibodies in their bloodstream that react with proteins in the brain of their babies. The research, published in Molecular Psychology, indicates that while the blood-brain barrier in the adult women prevents them from being harmed by the antibodies, that same filter in the fetuses is not sufficiently well-developed and so may allow the “anti-brain” antibodies to pass through to the babies’ brains, possibly causing autism.

The study was led by Betty Diamond, MD, head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Long Island, New York. Dr. Diamond notes that the very large sample size “gives a clearer impression of the prevalence of these antibodies.”

The research comes at a time of increasing interest in autoimmune diseases (AD) and autoimmunity as a disease category. AD is also increasingly being seen as a women’s health issue. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), some 50 million Americans live and cope with AD, and 75% of them are women. AD is one of the top 10 leading causes of death of women under the age of 65. It encompasses more than 100 diseases, including psoriasis, Graves’ disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and lupus and is responsible for more than $100 billion in direct healthcare costs each year. Read the study abstract.