Currently, only 15 percent of children with Autism have known causes for their condition. For the vast majority of sufferers, the question of what causes autism remains unknown. A report published yesterday in Transitional Psychiatry, however, has discovered a common antibody in mothers of autistic children. This study may solve the question of what causes autism, and allow parents to predict if their child will be autistic.
The newly researched antibody, first discovered in 2008, is overly common in mothers with autistic children. In the new study, scientists looked to see what exactly this antibody did to fetuses in the womb. These researchers learned that the antibody actively targeted six proteins in the fetus’s brain. These proteins are essential to proper brain development, and because they are debilitated by their mother’s antibodies, they fail to construct the brain properly. This interruption of brain formation, the study suggests, is an explanation for 25 percent of autistic cases.
In the study, 246 mothers of autistic children, and 149 control mothers were tested for the antibody. Of the 149 mothers without autistic children, only one percent of them held the antibody. A startling 23% of the mothers with autistic children held the antibody.
Researchers then began tests on monkeys in which they injected pregnant mothers with the antibody. The primate children of those mothers showed delayed brain activity, and unusual social interactions with other chimps. These results further cement the link between the antibody and the cause of autism.
This discovery is a major milestone in the study of Autism, which until now has remained one of the least understood diseases in medicine. Study lead, Andrew Zimmerman knows that further research on the antibody is essential. He said, “Much work remains to be done to show how these antibodies are relevant, how they affect fetal brain development, and what factors lead some mothers to develop these antibodies.”
The two major goals of this research are to make this newfound antibody identifiable, and treatable. It’s likely that pregnant mothers will soon be tested for the antibody, just as they are tested for a number of other conditions linked to childhood disease and disability. In future years, a way to suppress this antibody in carrying mothers may also come to market. If so, over a quarter of autistic children could instead live normal lives.