Editors' ChoiceAutism

A Primate Model for Autism

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Science Translational Medicine  14 Aug 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 198, pp. 198ec134
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007182

We know very little about the causes of autism disorders (ASDs), but one effort, led by D. Amaral, has been investigating the effects of exposing pregnant primates to antibodies taken from human mothers of children with ASD. In their latest study, they collected serum from mothers of ASD children that contained antibodies to 37- and 73-kD fetal brain proteins. These two proteins are specifically associated with ASD in humans. Purified immunoglobulin G (IgG), with or without the antibodies, was intravenously delivered to pregnant rhesus macaques.

The findings were fascinating: First, mothers exposed to IgG with antibodies were more protective of their young ones. Second, offspring of these mothers more frequently approached their peers (although this behavior did not elicit effective social interaction). Third, magnetic resonance imaging data showed that these offspring had larger brain volumes, particularly in the white matter of the frontal lobe. The alterations in brain volume were observed only in males, whereas behavioral abnormalities were obvious in both genders. How prenatal exposure to maternal antibodies leads to these fetal brain changes is not yet clear.

Despite limitations, this article describes a primate model useful for the study of the development of human ASD—one that uses a specific etiology derived from the clinical population. Among other needed experiments, this model will allow investigation into the histological correlates of ASD and looks promising in establishing specific targets for therapeutic interventions.

M. D. Bauman et al., Maternal antibodies from mothers of children with autism alter brain growth and social behavior development in the rhesus monkey. Transl. Psych. 3, e278 (2013). [Full text]

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