Pregnant women with a disfunctional immune system may be at higher risk of having a child with autism combined with intellectual disability, researchers say.
The research also suggests a potential immune profile for the differentiation of autism combined with intellectual disability, as distinct from either autism or developmental disability alone.
“Inflammation during the second trimester in the mothers of children with autism who also have intellectual disability was significantly greater than in mothers of children with autism without intellectual disability in our study,” said the study’s senior author Judy Van de Water, professor at University of California, Davis School of Medicine.
The study was conducted using blood serum samples obtained from 184 mothers whose children developed autism and intellectual disability (previously known as mental retardation), 201 who had children with autism without intellectual disability, 188 whose children had developmental disability alone and 428 general population control participants.
The study was designed to evaluate biomarkers for autism.
The researchers examined the mothers’ mid-gestational blood serum levels of 22 different cytokines and chemokines, proteins that control communication between cells of the immune system.
The findings, published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, showed that pregnant women with higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines may be at significantly greater risk of having a child with autism combined with intellectual disability.
“However, equally significant was that profiles of mothers whose children go on to be diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability differed markedly from those whose children have intellectual disability without autism, as well as from the typically developing general population,” Van de Water, who is also affiliated with UC Davis MIND Institute, noted.
“Their profiles are distinct from all of the other groups that we studied, based on their cytokine and chemokine profiles,” she said.
“This finding suggests an avenue that we will explore to potentially identify possible markers to separate sub-phenotypes in the autism population,” she explained.