Research out of the University of California Davis MIND Institute has identified a possible cause for as many as one in four cases of autism. The researchers found a connection between certain antibodies present in the mother’s blood during pregnancy and children with autism spectrum disorders. This discovery could result in a new test for identifying autism and provide a way for clinicians to offer early interventions.

The research team conducted the investigation by taking blood samples from 149 mothers of children with autism. They analyzed the blood for the antibodies in question. Normally, antibodies work by entering the placenta to fight bacteria or viruses that could harm the developing fetus, but these antibodies do the opposite. The antibodies undermine typical fetal brain development by targeting proteins in the brain, which could explain the presence of autism.

They found that nearly one in four—23 percent—of the mothers had the antibodies. This is in stark contrast to the control group, in which the antibodies were present in less than one percent of mothers. It should be noted that since these antibodies act like an autoimmune disorder, women have no control over whether or not they produce the antibody. Researchers have not yet identified what triggers the production of this antibody.

Leonard Abbeduto, director of the MIND Institute explained the significance of the research. “These findings are incredibly important because they establish a cause for a significant portion of autism cases, thereby opening up new lines of inquiry into possible biological treatments.”

This research is published in the journal Transitional Psychiatry.

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