Understood: Link between autism, severe infection while pregnant

Two new studies from MIT and University of Massachusetts Medical School shed more light on the link between severe infection during pregnancy and autism and identify possible approaches to preventing it.

Updated: January 3, 2018 12:20 am
neurology, bacterial attack, autism, pregnancy, severe infection, birth defect, mit research papers, University of Massachusetts Medical School, indian express Beautiful pregnant woman sitting at bed and holds hands on belly in bedroom at home. Pregnancy, parenthood, preparation and expectation concept. Close-up, indoors.

Written by Gloria Choi and others

Mothers who experience an infection severe enough to require hospitalisation during pregnancy are at higher risk of having a child with autism. Two new studies from MIT and University of Massachusetts Medical School shed more light on this phenomenon and identify possible approaches to preventing it.

In research on mice, the researchers found that the composition of bacterial populations in the mother’s digestive tract can influence whether maternal infection leads to autistic-like behaviours in offspring. They also discovered the specific brain changes that produce these behaviours. If validated in human studies, the findings could offer a possible way to reduce the risk of autism, which would involve blocking the function of certain strains of bacteria found in the maternal gut, the researchers say.

In one of the new papers, the researchers set out to learn more about irregular “patches” in parts of the cortex and to determine if they were responsible for behavioural abnormalities seen in mice, which include repetitive behaviour and impaired sociability.

They found that the patches were most common in a part of the brain known as S1DZ, and that the changes in the cortical patches were associated with overexcitement in S1DZ. When the researchers restored normal levels of brain activity in this area, they were able to reverse the behavioural abnormalities.

Excerpted from MIT NEWS report

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