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Brain-reactive IgG correlates with autoimmunity in mothers of a child with an autism spectrum disorder


It is believed that in utero environmental factors contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The goal of this study was to demonstrate, using the largest cohort reported so far, that mothers of an ASD child have an elevated frequency of anti-brain antibodies and to assess whether brain reactivity is associated with an autoimmune diathesis of the mother. We screened plasma of 2431 mothers of an ASD child from Simon Simplex Collection and plasma of 653 unselected women of child-bearing age for anti-brain antibodies using immunohistology on mouse brain. Positive and negative plasma from mothers with an ASD child were analyzed for anti-nuclear antibodies and for autoimmune disorders. Mothers of an ASD child were four times more likely to harbor anti-brain antibodies than unselected women of child-bearing age (10.5 vs 2.6%). A second cohort from The Autism Genetic Resource Exchange with multiplex families displayed an 8.8% prevalence of anti-brain antibodies in the mothers of these families. Fifty-three percent of these mothers with anti-brain antibodies also exhibited anti-nuclear autoantibodies compared with 13.4% of mothers of an ASD child without anti-brain antibodies and 15% of control women of child-bearing age. The analysis of ASD mothers with brain-reactive antibodies also revealed an increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases, especially rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. This study provides robust evidence that brain-reactive antibodies are increased in mothers of an ASD child and may be associated with autoimmunity. The current study serves as a benchmark and justification for studying the potential pathogenicity of these antibodies on the developing brain. The detailed characterization of the specificity of these antibodies will provide practical benefits for the management and prevention of this disorder.

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We thank Dr Marta Benedetti at the Simons Foundation and William Jensen at Prometheus Research for assistance with obtaining and analyzing clinical data on the Simons collection. We also thank Matt State for access to genetic data on mothers in the Simons Collection; Bradley and Jennifer Marsh for seed funding for this project. This work was supported by Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks.

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Correspondence to B Diamond.

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Brimberg, L., Sadiq, A., Gregersen, P. et al. Brain-reactive IgG correlates with autoimmunity in mothers of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Mol Psychiatry 18, 1171–1177 (2013).

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  • anti-brain antibodies
  • ASD
  • autoimmunity
  • maternal

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