Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of heterogeneous neurodevelopmental conditions presenting in early childhood with a prevalence ranging from 0.7% to 2.64%. Social interaction and communication skills are impaired and children often present with unusual repetitive behavior. The condition persists for life with major implications for the individual, the family and the entire health care system. While the etiology of ASD remains unknown, various clues suggest a possible association with altered immune responses and ASD. Inflammation in the brain and CNS has been reported by several groups with notable microglia activation and increased cytokine production in postmortem brain specimens of young and old individuals with ASD. Moreover several laboratories have isolated distinctive brain and CNS reactive antibodies from individuals with ASD. Large population based epidemiological studies have established a correlation between ASD and a family history of autoimmune diseases, associations with MHC complex haplotypes, and abnormal levels of various inflammatory cytokines and immunological markers in the blood. In addition, there is evidence that antibodies that are only present in some mothers of children with ASD bind to fetal brain proteins and may be a marker or risk factor for ASD. Studies involving the injection of these ASD specific maternal serum antibodies into pregnant mice during gestation, or gestational exposure of Rhesus monkeys to IgG subclass of these antibodies, have consistently elicited behavioral changes in offspring that have relevance to ASD. We will summarize the various types of studies associating ASD with the immune system, critically evaluate the quality of these studies, and attempt to integrate them in a way that clarifies the areas of immune and autoimmune phenomena in ASD research that will be important indicators for future research.
Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorders; Autoantibodies; Brain inflammation; Cytokines; HLA association; Microglia.
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