Health + Safety

Study: Mother’s Antibodies May Explain a Quarter of Autism Cases

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autism antibodies

A test for six antibodies in an expectant mom’s blood may predict with more than 99% certainty which children are at highest risk of developing autism.

In a study published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers report that 23% of all cases of autism may result from the presence of maternal antibodies that interfere with fetal brain development during pregnancy. The work builds on a 2008 study from the same scientists that first described the group of antibodies in mothers-to-be. The latest paper describes the specific antibodies and provides more detail on what they do.

“It’s very exciting,” says Alycia Halladay, Senior Director of Environmental and Clinical Sciences for Autism Speaks, who was not associated with the research.

The research is already leading to what could be the first biological test for autism; the antibodies are found almost exclusively in mothers of autistic children, and not in children with other types of disorders or in mothers of non-autistic children. Only 1% of mothers whose children were not affected by autism had the antibodies in their blood, compared to 23% of mothers of autistic children. Judith Van de Water, an immunologist and professor of internal medicine at the University of California Davis MIND Institute and the study’s lead author, has consulted for a company, Pediatric Bioscience, that is developing a commercial version of the test, but the research was not funded by that organization and was supported primarily by the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences.