Judy Van de Water, Ph.D., discusses immunological dysregulation during gestation. She examines the etiology of autism and explores the interplay of genetic markers and environmental factors by examining correlations in infections, gestational immune system dysregulation, and autoimmune and ASD diagnosis. Van de Water outlines studies on early markers in autism (EMA), maternal autoantibody-related autism (MAR), and intracellular MAR staining, demonstrating the significance of maternal antibodies both as biomarkers and developmental contributors. She highlights the findings and emphasizes their value in future research, screening, treatments, and prevention before opening to questions.
In this presentation:
4:01 – Research goals
6:55 – Conceptual model of ASD etiology
14:05 – Immune function in autism
15:44 – Maternal immune function
18:10 – Maternal infection and autism
21:49 – Maternal immune-mediated diseases and autism
24:30 – Study: Early markers of autism (EMA)
30:10 – Studies: Maternal autoantibody-related autism (MAR)
44:31 – Study: Intracellular MAR staining
46:58 – Conclusions, ongoing analysis, future directions, and importance
52:00 – Q&A
The etiology of autism spectrum disorder is a combination of genetic susceptibilities and environmental factors (5:22). Understanding how these factors interplay can help researchers develop screening tools for earlier diagnosis and interventions (51:00). Studies increasingly find a connection between prenatal/gestational maternal immune system dysfunction and autism diagnosis. This connection has to do with the neuroimmunological (9:00) interactions between the body’s immune and nervous systems. The three main components of neuroimmunology are:
– Cytokines (10:40): mediate immune responses via cell to cell communication
– Chemokines (13:00): chemical trails showing cells where they need to go
– Antibodies: proteins created to fight infection
The immune-neuro interface (11:40) comprises inflammatory and leukocyte pathways that control development, fever response, neuromodulation, inflammation, etc. Van de Water and her colleagues focus on understanding immune dysfunctions during and before pregnancy that may impact this interface and how the brain develops (15:50).
The speaker highlights the large volume of studies showing a correlation between ASD diagnosis and maternal infection (specifically fever) during pregnancy (18:10). She also outlines studies on the frequency of maternal autoimmune diagnosis. She posits that, “some immune dysregulation during pregnancy… could contribute to a change in immune function (i.e. autoimmune diagnosis), resulting in changes to neurodevelopment” (22:30). In all cases, timing at immune system disruption seems important. The presenter notes the difference in clinical and scientific significance (20:50).
Dr. Van de Water outlines a large study on early markers of autism (EMA) aiming to 1) identify early biological markers of susceptibility and exposure in fetal brain development and 2) determine etiologic contribution and interplay of neuroimmunological and environmental