Abnormal immune responses have been reported to be associated with autism. A number of studies showed that cytokines were increased in the blood, brain, and cerebrospinal fluid of autistic subjects. Elevated IL-6 in autistic brain has been a consistent finding. However, the mechanisms by which IL-6 may be involved in the pathogenesis of autism are not well understood. Here we show that mice with elevated IL-6 in the brain display many autistic features, including impaired cognitive abilities, deficits in learning, abnormal anxiety traits and habituations, as well as decreased social interactions. IL-6 elevation caused alterations in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic formations and disrupted the balance of excitatory/inhibitory synaptic transmissions. IL-6 elevation also resulted in an abnormal change in the shape, length and distributing pattern of dendritic spines. These findings suggest that IL-6 elevation in the brain could mediate autistic-like behaviors, possibly through the imbalances of neural circuitry and impairments of synaptic plasticity.
Published by Elsevier B.V.