Maternal infection and immune involvement in autism

Trends Mol Med. 2011 Jul;17(7):389-94. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


Recent studies have highlighted a connection between infection during pregnancy and the increased risk of autism in the offspring. Parallel studies of cerebral spinal fluid, blood and postmortem brains reveal an ongoing, hyper-responsive inflammatory-like state in many young as well as adult autism subjects. There are also indications of gastrointestinal problems in at least a subset of autistic children. Work on the maternal infection risk factor using animal models indicates that aspects of brain and peripheral immune dysregulation can begin during fetal development and continue through adulthood. The offspring of infected or immune-activated dams also display cardinal behavioral features of autism, as well as neuropathology consistent with that seen in human autism. These rodent models are proving useful for the study of pathogenesis and gene-environment interactions as well as for the exploration of potential therapeutic strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / immunology
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Autoimmunity
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / embryology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / pathology
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / pathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / immunology*
  • Risk Factors