Data and epidemiologic evidence from animal model studies indicate that predisposing genetic factors and aberrant brain development during gestation may contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) pathogenesis. Neuroimmunomodulatory factors have been associated with the prenatal pathogenic process. Dr. Robert Vogt, recipient of an Idea Development Award from the FY07 Autism Research Program, and his team in the Newborn Screening Translational Laboratory at CDC are developing and evaluating assays to search for biomarkers of increased risk for ASD in newborn dried blood spot (DBS) samples. The researchers are testing the Gestational Neuro-Immuno-Pathology hypothesis, which proposes that autoimmune or cross-reactive antibodies in pregnant women transverse the placenta to the fetus and may disrupt normal development by reacting with brain tissue. To date, the assay that Dr. Vogt developed has been used to measure nerve tissue antigen-specific IgG antibodies in over 390 DBS samples from children who developed ASD, over 390 children with mental retardation, and over 625 matched (birth year, sex, and gestational age) controls. Unexpectedly, the researchers found that higher levels of the nerve tissue antigen-specific IgG antibodies were associated with a reduced risk of ASD. Specifically, this trend was observed in brain-derived neurotropic factor, glial fibrillary axonal protein, and myelin basic protein IgG antibodies. These findings may be attributed to the placentally transferred IgG acting as a blocking antibody and highlight the need for further studies.
2010 Autism Research Highlights