A new, large-scale study of more than 2,700 mothers of children with autism shows that about one in 10 mothers have antibodies in their bloodstream that react with proteins in the brain of their babies.
The research, published in Molecular Psychology (August 20, 2013) indicates that while the blood-brain barrier in the adult women prevents them from being harmed by the antibodies, that same filter in the fetuses is not well-developed enough and so may allow the “anti-brain” antibodies to pass through to the babies’ brains, possibly causing autism.
The study was led by Dr. Betty Diamond, head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Long Island, New York, who said the very large sample size “gives a clearer impression of the prevalence of these antibodies.”
“We at AARDA applaud Dr. Diamond’s research into an area that concerns all parents,” said Virginia T. Ladd, President of American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. (AARDA).
According to AARDA, in healthy people, when a foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria, enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies to attack those foreign substances. In people with autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly recognizes the body’s own healthy tissues and organs as foreign invaders and produces antibodies to attack them. These auto-antibodies — or antibodies produced against the self — then cause disease. The disease that results depends upon which tissues and/or organs the antibodies are attacking.
Some 50 million Americans live and cope with autoimmune disease (AD), 75 percent of whom are women. AD is one of the top 10 leading causes of death of women under the age of 65. It encompasses more than 100 diseases, including psoriasis, Graves’ disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus. It is responsible for more than $100 billion in direct health care costs annually.