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Maternal T cells Gone Rogue: A New Link Between Immune Activation And Autism

Apr 13, 2016 1:00:11 PM / by Dalia Gaddis

  Children with autism spectrum disorder show characteristic repetitive behavior. A cause, some scientists suspect, is changes in brain development of the infants due to a cytokine produced by the maternal T cells. Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.orgScientists find that IL-17 produced by maternal T cells may cause brain damage to their infants and lead to autism.

Are a mother’s own T cells, which are designed to protect her and her unborn infant, to blame for autism? There might be an association between excessive maternal T cells activation and autism.

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of complex neurological disorders that are characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior. The range of disability experienced by individuals varies widely between completely functional to highly unable to perform basic needs. Signs of autism can be obvious in babies although it is usually clearer when children are between 2 to 4 years of age. Autism affects 1 in every 68 children. It has no cure and scientists so far have not been able to pinpoint what exactly causes autism.1

What scientists know so far is that certain genetic and environmental elements correlate strongly with autism. There is a higher chance for a second child to be autistic if one child in the family is. Also, children born to mothers who experience severe infection or high levels of immune activation during pregnancy have a higher incidence of autism.

A group of researchers in Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently discovered that, in animal models, the cytokine IL-17, which is produced by T cells, can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. This happens when T cells produced high levels of IL-17 in situations such as severe infections or auto-immunity. This increase in IL-17 in the fetal circulation results in changes in brain cortical development, which leads to brain abnormalities and the characteristic repetitive behavior seen with autism. The researchers also found that the expression of the transcription factor RORγt in the maternal T cells was important for these events to happen. RORγt leads to the production of IL-17. By blocking IL-17 signaling in animals, scientists could reduce the incidence of autism-like characteristics and behavioral abnormalities, suggesting that manipulating this pathway can affect the outcome of disease. The researchers hope that by targeting the maternal IL-17 producing T cells in susceptible mothers, they may be able to reduce the incidence of autism in their infants.2

Here at HemaCare, we are excited about these novel findings and will be following eagerly should more evidence emerge pointing to the function of T cell production of  IL-17 in autism. We provide human T cells and other immune cell types that can be used in the context of many abnormalities. You can call us at (877) 397-3087 if you have any questions or would like to place an order.



2 Choi G.B. et al. 2016. The maternal IL-17A pathway in mice promotes autism like phenotype in offspring. Science 26;351 (6276):933-9. doi: 10.1126/science.aad0314

Topics: T Cells, CNS/Neurodegeneration, Basic Research

Dalia Gaddis

Written by Dalia Gaddis

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