Folate receptor autoantibodies are prevalent in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, their normal siblings and parents

Autism Res. 2018 May;11(5):707-712. doi: 10.1002/aur.1934. Epub 2018 Feb 2.


Folate deficiency can affect fetal and neonatal brain development Considering the reported association of Folate receptor alpha (FRα) autoantibodies (Abs) with autism and developmental disorders, we sought to confirm this in families of 82 children with ASD, 53 unaffected siblings, 65 fathers, and 70 mothers, along with 52 unrelated normal controls. Overall, 76% of the affected children, 75% of the unaffected siblings, 69% of fathers and 59% of mothers were positive for either blocking or binding Ab, whereas the prevalence of this Ab in the normal controls was 29%. The Ab was highly prevalent in affected families including unaffected siblings. The appearance of these antibodies may have a familial origin but the risk of developing ASD is likely influenced by other mitigating factors since some siblings who had the antibodies were not affected. The antibody response appears heritable with the blocking autoantibody in the parents and affected child increasing the risk of ASD. Autism Res 2018, 11: 707-712. © 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Lay summary: Folate is an essential nutrient during fetal and infant development. Autoantibodies against the folate receptor alpha can block folate transport from the mother to the fetus and to the brain in infants. Children diagnosed with autism and their immediate family members were evaluated for the prevalence of folate receptor autoantibodies. The autoantibody was highly prevalent in affected families with similar distribution in parents, normal siblings and affected children. The presence of these antibodies appears to have a familial origin and may contribute to developmental deficits when combined with other factors.

Keywords: autism; autoantibodies; folate receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Folate Receptor 1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Siblings*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Folate Receptor 1