Purpose of review: The following is a review of the most recent research concerning the potential role of immune system dysfunction in autism. This body of literature has expanded dramatically over the past few years as researchers continue to identify immune anomalies in individuals with autism.
Recent findings: The most exciting of these recent findings is the discovery of autoantibodies targeting brain proteins in both children with autism and their mothers. In particular, circulating maternal autoantibodies directed toward fetal brain proteins are highly specific for autism. This finding has great potential as a biomarker for disease risk and may provide an avenue for future therapeutics and prevention. Additionally, data concerning the cellular immune system in children with autism suggest there may be a defect in signaling pathways that are shared by the immune and central nervous systems. Although studies to explore this hypothesis are ongoing, there is great interest in the commonalities between the neural and immune systems and their extensive interactions.
Summary: In summary, the exciting research regarding the role of the immune system in autism spectrum disorders may have profound implications for diagnosis and treatment of this devastating disease.