Weird Medicine

Inflammation Temporarily Reverses Symptoms Of Autism

Fever, a result of systemic inflammation, could potentially improve behavioral issues with people on the autism spectrum disorder, as per what new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Medical School found. The details of the experiment was published Wednesday in the journal Nature

A woman suffering from high fever during pregnancy generates the immune molecule, IL-17a, which affects developing brains in the embryos. This reaction leads to defects in the region of the brain cortex termed S1DZ because the molecules secure themselves to receptors in this part of the brain, which is connected to poor social skills that limit people on the autistic spectrum. This theory was tested once before by the researchers.  

In the experiments conducted on mice in 2016 by the study’s senior authors Gloria Choi and Jun Huh, it was seen that mice reproduced by mothers with inflammation were more likely to be socially inept. The animals displayed repetitive behaviors and communicated abnormally after they were born.

The link was previously established by human studies. Children born to mothers who had viral infections in the third trimester between 1980 and 2005 in Denmark were three times more at risk of being born with autism. Severe urinary tract infections, influenza and viral gastroenteritis in the second trimester resulted in 1.42 percent more risk of being born with autism. 

Now, this phenomenon was studied in mice induced with fever during gestation, with the goal of helping develop treatments for neurological disorders. Although the researchers admitted that what works on mice may not be translated in humans, they injected Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a portion of a certain bacteria that causes fever and subsequently inflammation, into the mice to study the effect. 

"We wanted to ask whether we could use mouse models of neurodevelopmental disorders to recapitulate this phenomenon. Once you see the phenomenon in animals, you can probe the mechanism," Choi explained.

During this stage, the researchers had observed that social interactions of the mice had improved and they were seen socializing more. The molecule that binds to certain brain receptors while the pregnant mothers suffer from fevers performs the same function. Except now, the IL-17a suppresses negative behavioral symptoms and reduces neural activity, instead of being a part of it. 

"This suggests that the immune system uses molecules like IL-17a to directly talk to the brain, and it actually can work almost like a neuromodulator to bring about these behavioral changes," Choi added.

"Our study provides another example as to how the brain can be modulated by the immune system."

Baby Autism Autism may stem from outside of the brain, leading researchers to search the central nervous system for answers. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain