When I was in the MAT program, one of the last education classes I needed to take was foundations of special education. As a part of this class, we learned many different factors that could cause children to develop diseases and disorders in the womb since many of these children still participate in traditional classrooms for a full or half day. Autism Spectrum Disorder is one thing we studied pretty extensively, and I found that there are many theories on how children develop autism.

One new study has found a correlation between a couple specific maternal antibodies with a specific type of autism. Researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute have found that the highly specific immunoglobulin-G (IgG) autoantibodies can impact fetal brain development by crossing to the placenta during pregnancy. This causes maternal antibody-related autism (MAR). This type of autism is actually fairly common is turns out and the researcher teams has said that MAR autism cases might represent as much as 23% of all autism cases.

The new study is actually an extension of an earlier study done in 2008 that explored the effects of the IgG antibodies and their tendency to cause autism in infants whose mothers were exposed to them. The new study also explores this, but takes the research a step further by using a non-human primate model. During the new study, a group of pregnant female monkeys were exposed to the IgG antibody that was purified from mother whose children had autism and showed fetal brain reactivity. The second group received IgG antibodies from the mothers of typically developing children, and finally the he third group of monkeys included untreated animals that didn’t receive antibodies at all.

Melissa D. Bauman, UC Davis assistant adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and a faculty member at the MIND Institute helped evaluate the groups and the development of the IgG-ASD offspring, the first group.

"The offspring of IgG-ASD antibody treated mothers consistently deviated from species-typical behavioral development of young rhesus monkeys," Bauman said. Also, the mothers were much more protective of their offspring as well, and initiated more contact and physical touch than usual. Bauman suggests that the mothers may have detected abnormal behaviors in their offspring and aroused feelings of heightened protectiveness. The offspring of the IgG-ASD antibody treated mothers also failed to interact socially with the other offspring from the untreated animals.

"The non-human primate study provides an exciting look at the pathologic effect of these autism-specific maternal antibodies," said Judy Van de Water, who originally described the association between maternal antibodies to fetal brain proteins and ASD.

Researchers are still unclear as to how prenatal exposure to the antibodies cause autism, but it has given scientists and health professionals a clearer idea of how autism is caused and some hope that in the future, autism can be prevented.


  • M D Bauman, A-M Iosif, P Ashwood, D Braunschweig, A Lee, C M Schumann, J Van de Water, D G Amaral. Maternal antibodies from mothers of children with autism alter brain growth and social behavior development in the rhesus monkey. Translational Psychiatry, 2013; 3 (7): e278 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2013.47
  • University of California - Davis Health System (2013, July 9). Exposure to maternal antibodies affects behavior, researchers find. ScienceDaily.