Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the most rapidly increasing neurodevelopmental disorder and
current estimates are alarming. One in 68 children
and one in 42 boys in the United States are estimated to be on the spectrum. Few
treatment options exist, and the search for effective new therapies has
been hindered by a struggle to understand what causes ASD.
In the Biological Psychiatry
special issue "Neuroimmune
Mechanisms in Autism Spectrum Disorder", guest editor Professor
Kimberley McAllister of the University of California, Davis, presents
five reviews and three original research articles highlighting advances
that are transforming the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
‘Immune dysregulation contributes to, and may cause, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), suggests a new study.’
Dr. McAllister said, "One of the most exciting recent hypotheses in the field is that
immune dysregulation contributes to, and may cause, ASD." The special issue reports on both environmental factors and
genetic mutations that converge on immune dysfunction.
To better understand the neurodevelopmental trajectory and role of
immune function in ASD, new clinical studies detail the timing of
immunologic disturbances in children with ASD and the relationship
between immune system activation and severity of impairments.
Inflammation may also help explain why ASD affects boys four to five times
more than girls. A review highlighting the importance of the immune
system in the normal development of males proposes how the process of
masculinization makes boys more vulnerable to the effects of
Children with ASD often suffer from gastrointestinal issues, and two
reviews highlight recent research on the environmental and genetic
links that may bridge immune dysfunction, the gut microbiome, and
impairments in brain development associated with ASD.
Recent research has also implicated the maternal immune system
during pregnancy on risk of ASD in children. Two new reviews in the
issue collate research in humans and animal models that link alterations
in the maternal immune system, whether through genetic autoimmune
disorders or through immune system activation in response to infection,
with impaired brain development observed in ASD.
"Research in this new area of neuroimmunology provides real hope
that new therapies directed at preventing and/or correcting immune
dysregulation in ASD could improve the lives of millions of Americans,"
Dr. McAllister concluded.
Therapies targeting the immune system may also have benefits beyond
ASD, as indicated by a new study linking maternal immune dysfunction
with an increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The
findings suggest that correcting immune dysfunction may have potential
for preventing a range of psychiatric diseases.