Neuroinflammation in preterm babies and autism spectrum disorders

Pediatr Res. 2019 Jan;85(2):155-165. doi: 10.1038/s41390-018-0208-4. Epub 2018 Nov 16.


Genetic anomalies have a role in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Each genetic factor is responsible for a small fraction of cases. Environment factors, like preterm delivery, have an important role in ASD. Preterm infants have a 10-fold higher risk of developing ASD. Preterm birth is often associated with maternal/fetal inflammation, leading to a fetal/neonatal inflammatory syndrome. There are demonstrated experimental links between fetal inflammation and the later development of behavioral symptoms consistent with ASD. Preterm infants have deficits in connectivity. Most ASD genes encode synaptic proteins, suggesting that ASD are connectivity pathologies. Microglia are essential for normal synaptogenesis. Microglia are diverted from homeostatic functions towards inflammatory phenotypes during perinatal inflammation, impairing synaptogenesis. Preterm infants with ASD have a different phenotype from term born peers. Our original hypothesis is that exposure to inflammation in preterm infants, combined with at risk genetic background, deregulates brain development leading to ASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / pathology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / genetics
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*