Could Viral Infections During Pregnancy be Responsible for Causing Autism?

The Relationship Between Viral Infections During Pregnancy and Autism

The Science Journal published a new study in its January 28 issue. Scientists reveal that viral infections acquired during pregnancy correlate with behaviours of the child that are very close to Autism Spectrum Disorder. In extreme cases, the unborn child could be heavily affected in the womb.

Pioneers of this Study

  • University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • NYU Langone Medical Center, Boulder.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder.

Basis of this Relationship

Researchers observed what happens in pregnant mice. Viral infections altered the mice foetuses during brain formation. It resulted in mild to not-so-mild changes in their attitudes. Overall behaviour, as a result, was affected. These changes are similar to those of children with Autism.

In pregnant mice, a higher than normal count of interleukin-17a (a cytokine; a protein molecule secreted by the cells of the immune system to regulate itself) and the Th17 (a type of T-cell; lymphocytes developed in the thymus gland to plan and control the response of the immune system towards infected/malignant cells) was noticed. Inflammations and infections occurred in the mother and her offspring exhibited symptoms resembling Autism in humans.

Is this study unique?

No. There have been earlier studies indicating a link between gestational viral infections and their effects on the developing brain of an embryo. See the Medical News article for the risks involved in detail.

Some studies also exist on mouse models with an affected immune system. Results were observed, but the researchers have not been able to establish any relationship between viral infection during pregnancy and Autism in humans. Therefore, for now, it may be safe to conclude that the mechanism in humans is way beyond the current findings.

Should we be concerned?

While the facts have yet to establish any clear relationship between prenatal infection and Autism, would-be mums are best advised not to make too many changes. A healthy pregnancy always minimizes any risk of Autism in the newborn. An immune system that is already compromised has a higher risk of not delivering a normal, healthy baby.

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