Autism with intellectual disability is associated with increased levels of maternal cytokines and chemokines during gestation


Immune abnormalities have been described in some individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) as well as their family members. However, few studies have directly investigated the role of prenatal cytokine and chemokine profiles on neurodevelopmental outcomes in humans. In the current study, we characterized mid-gestational serum profiles of 22 cytokines and chemokines in mothers of children with ASD (N=415), developmental delay (DD) without ASD (N=188), and general population (GP) controls (N=428) using a bead-based multiplex technology. The ASD group was further divided into those with intellectual disabilities (developmental/cognitive and adaptive composite score<70) (ASD+ID, N=184) and those without (composite score70) (ASD-noID, N=201). Levels of cytokines and chemokines were compared between groups using multivariate logistic regression analyses, adjusting for maternal age, ethnicity, birth country and weight, as well as infant gender, birth year and birth month. Mothers of children with ASD+ID had significantly elevated mid-gestational levels of numerous cytokines and chemokines, such as granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor, interferon-γ, interleukin-1α (IL-1α) and IL-6, compared with mothers of children with either ASD-noID, those with DD, or GP controls. Conversely, mothers of children with either ASD-noID or with DD had significantly lower levels of the chemokines IL-8 and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 compared with mothers of GP controls. This observed immunologic distinction between mothers of children with ASD+ID from mothers of children with ASD-noID or DD suggests that the intellectual disability associated with ASD might be etiologically distinct from DD without ASD. These findings contribute to the ongoing efforts toward identification of early biological markers specific to subphenotypes of ASD.

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This study was supported by Grants 3R01ES016669 from National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 5R01MH072565 from the National Institute of Mental Health and the NICHD-funded IDDRC 054 (U54HD079125). We thank Yanjun Cui and Lori Haapanen for their data collection and management efforts. Banked specimens were provided by Project Baby’s Breath (M Kharrazi and G DeLorenze, Co-Principal Investigators) under the direction of the California Genetic Disease Screening Program. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the California Department of Public Health.

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Jones, K., Croen, L., Yoshida, C. et al. Autism with intellectual disability is associated with increased levels of maternal cytokines and chemokines during gestation. Mol Psychiatry 22, 273–279 (2017).

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