esearchers have been trying to discover what causes autism for decades. While there are never any clear answers, new studies continuously emerge on the topic. The latest, published in the September 13th issue of Nature, indicates a link between infections, maternal gut bacteria populations during pregnancy, and an increased likelihood of autism.
Not to freak expectant mothers out, but new research seems to suggest that getting sick while pregnant could increase autism risk.
Two recent studies (of pregnant mice) out of Harvard and MIT suggest that when a pregnant female has an infection that triggers an immune response, her baby has an increased risk for brain abnormalities.
That's right, getting sick while pregnant affects the baby's brain. At least in mice.
According to the recent findings by power scientist couple Huh Jun-ryeol and Gloria Choi, a Harvard Medical School professor and an MIT professor respectively, when a pregnant female mouse has a certain kind of immune response — what they call Maternal Immune Activation (MIA) — her offspring’s brain could be affected.
But, before all the pregnant women freak out (more)...
This study comes with some good news. Yes, it indicated a link between getting sick while pregnant and an increased risk of brain abnormalities in the baby. But the same study also showed that treatment with antibiotics, which kill off some of the mother’s gut flora, could mitigate or reverse these abnormalities.
From the Nature article based on these studies: “The types of bacteria in the mouse’s gut seem to be important. When the scientists used antibiotics to wipe out common gut microorganisms called segmented filamentous bacteria in female mice, this seemed to protect the animals’ babies from the impact of the simulated infection. The offspring of mice given the antibiotic treatment did not show the unusual behaviors, such as reduced sociability and repetitive actions.”
If the bacteria that are — or are not — present during pregnancy can affect our babies' brains, and we know which bacteria are harmful, does that mean we can cure brain abnormalities?
No. It means that scientists are one step closer to understanding one component of brain abnormalities in babies. But the mother’s gut flora, or exposure to infections while pregnant, is only one of many factors that have been shown to affect autism rates. And it’s not just moms that are on the line here.
An earlier study demonstrated a strong correlation between paternal age and brain abnormalities.
A 2014 Swedish study found that a child whose father was 45 was 3.5 times more likely to have autism, 13 times more likely to have ADHD, and 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder compared to a child whose father was 24. Other studies have shown a less significant correlation between paternal age and brain abnormalities.