Scientists have long suspected that infections can trigger autism in the womb. In 2010, a study in Denmark found that moms-to-be in their first trimester who were hospitalized because of an infection (from the flu, say, or a urinary tract infection) were three times more likely to give birth to babies later diagnosed with autism. Pregnant women in their second trimester had a 1.5 higher chance of doing the same.
Now a new study done on pregnant mice explains why this happens. Researchers from MIT have found that an immune cell activated during an infection can interfere with the developing brain of a fetus. And when they blocked the protein, called interleukin 17, produced by this cell, the baby mice were born without the behavioral problems associated with autism (like repetitive behaviors or problems socializing).
The next step would be to see if humans produce the same protein. If they do, then there's good chance that scientists will be able to lower the risk that moms suffering from infections will give birth to autistic children.
via DailyMail.co.uk and BostonBusinessJournals
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