Given how autism spectrum disorder affects a reported one in 68 children around the world, it’s likely that the latest scientific finding in the States will be of huge interest to a lot of people.
A group of scientists are claiming that they have discovered the root of the development of autism in babies’ brains, and they may be able to use this to prevent and even cure the condition.
The study was carried out by a team of experts from the New York University Langone, whereby they focused on the activity of immune cells that react to infections by creating what is commonly referred to as a ‘cellular army’.
A subset of these cells, called Th17, contains a protein called interleukin 17, and this is released to add power to the body’s response as it fights off infections.
This particular study, however, discovered that this is not all these substances do – the activation of Th17 cells and the release of interleukin 17 is also believed to play a significant role in creating behavioural abnormalities in embryos.
As part of their research, the team mimicked a viral invasion in pregnant mice, then monitored their behavioural response to the activation of Th17 and interleukin 17.
Amazingly, they found that those mice exposed to higher levels of interleukin 17 displayed ‘compulsive’ behaviour, burying marbles found in their cage one after the other. However, when the team blocked the action of the Th17 cells, the mice’s normal brain function was restored.
Commenting on the major significance of this finding, study author Dan Littman said: “To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify a specific population of immune cells that may have a direct role in causing behaviours linked to autism.”
“With these study results, Th17 cells – as well as specific proteins they produce – become candidate therapeutic targets as part of future efforts to prevent autism,” he added.