Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) refer to a range of conditions characterized by impaired social and communication skills and repetitive behaviors caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. Although the pathophysiology underlying ASD is still unclear, recent evidence suggests that immune dysregulation and neuroinflammation play a role in the etiology of ASD. In particular, there is direct evidence supporting a role for maternal immune activation during prenatal life in neurodevelopmental conditions. Currently, the available options of behavioral therapies and pharmacological and supportive nutritional treatments in ASD are only symptomatic. Given the disturbing rise in the incidence of ASD, and the fact that there is no effective pharmacological therapy for ASD, there is an urgent need for new therapeutic options. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) possess immunomodulatory properties that make them relevant to several diseases associated with inflammation and tissue damage. The paracrine regenerative mechanisms of MSCs are also suggested to be therapeutically beneficial for ASD. Thus the underlying pathology in ASD, including immune system dysregulation and inflammation, represent potential targets for MSC therapy. This review will focus on immune dysfunction in the pathogenesis of ASD and will further discuss the therapeutic potential for MSCs in mediating ASD-related immunological disorders.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Cell therapy; Inflammation; Major histocompatibility complex; Maternal immune activation; Mesenchymal stem cells.