Mesenchymal stem cells in treating autism: Novel insights

World J Stem Cells. 2014 Apr 26;6(2):173-8. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v6.i2.173.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are complex neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by dysfunctions in social interactions, abnormal to absent verbal communication, restricted interests, and repetitive stereotypic verbal and non-verbal behaviors, influencing the ability to relate to and communicate. The core symptoms of ASDs concern the cognitive, emotional, and neurobehavioural domains. The prevalence of autism appears to be increasing at an alarming rate, yet there is a lack of effective and definitive pharmacological options. This has created an increased sense of urgency, and the need to identify novel therapies. Given the growing awareness of immune dysregulation in a significant portion of the autistic population, cell therapies have been proposed and applied to ASDs. In particular, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) possess the immunological properties which make them promising candidates in regenerative medicine. MSC therapy may be applicable to several diseases associated with inflammation and tissue damage, where subsequent regeneration and repair is necessary. MSCs could exert a positive effect in ASDs through the following mechanisms: stimulation of repair in the damaged tissue, e.g., inflammatory bowel disease; synthesizing and releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines and survival-promoting growth factors; integrating into existing neural and synaptic network, and restoring plasticity. The paracrine mechanisms of MSCs show interesting potential in ASD treatment. Promising and impressive results have been reported from the few clinical studies published to date, although the exact mechanisms of action of MSCs in ASDs to restore functions are still largely unknown. The potential role of MSCs in mediating ASD recovery is discussed in light of the newest findings from recent clinical studies.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Autism treatment; Cell therapy; Mesenchymal stem cells.

Publication types

  • Review