Maternal immune activation may increase the risk of Autism and Prenatal Brain Development

Neurodevelopmental disorders are linked up with widely varying points of difficulty which may have substantial mental, emotional, physical, and economic consequences for individuals, and in turn their families and social club in general. Autism spectrum disorder is found to be one of the challenging conditions, in which the specific cause is yet to be found. The wellness of the mother during pregnancy takes on a major part in the growth of the fetus. It is natural that our immune system defend us against foreign invaders. In the case of pregnancy, the maternal immune activation sometimes leads to the risk of autism and prenatal brain development.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Cyprus, University of California, University of Cambridge, San Diego and Stanford University used rodents to help represent the complex biological cascade caused by the mother’s immune response, which may lead to important consequences. They stated that,”It’s important to underline that the increment in risk is genuinely small – too low to be meaningfully applied to specific individuals, and is exclusively seen in very large studies when examining many thousands of people”. For understanding how activation of a mother’s immune system may bear on her child’s brain development, the researchers analyzed the natural action of genes in the brain after injecting pregnant rats and mice with a substance called lipopolysaccharide. There’s no infectious agent in this substance and thus does not make the mothers sick, but will elicit a potent immune response in the mother, characterized by an increase in levels of cytokines. These are small immune signalling molecules that can have significant effects on brain cells and the associations between these cells.

The scientists found that maternal immune activation alters the action of multiple genes and pathways in the fetus’s brain. Significantly, many of these genes are recognized to be significant in the development of autism and to key brain developmental processes that happen before birth.  They think that these effects may help to explain why maternal immune activation carries a modest increased risk for later atypical neurodevelopment. While the effects induced by maternal immune activation are transient, the researchers indicate that they may be very potent during fetal development and may cause different characteristics in the individual depending on when it occurs during gestation. The study emphasizes the importance of the idea that genes and the environment interact and that their interaction may have important roles in better understanding how risk for neurodevelopmental disorder manifests.




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