Discovery #1: “Maternal Immune Activation” can cause autism

While Dr. Patterson’s passing wasn’t something I was aware of at the time, it was certainly recognized by the scientific community, of which his obituary from Caltech explains in great detail. Dr. Patterson’s “research focused on interactions between the nervous and immune systems — a connection that was not universally acknowledged in the early days of neuroscience” explains his obituary, “he became intrigued by epidemiological studies that had linked a severe viral or bacterial infection during pregnancy with the increased risk of a woman giving birth to a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder such as schizophrenia or autism.

Patterson and his coworkers reproduced this human effect in mice using a viral mimic that triggers an infection-like immune response in the mother, producing in the offspring the core behavioral symptoms associated with autism and schizophrenia.”
In 2006, Dr. Patterson introduced his complex understanding of the interaction between the immune system and neurodevelopment through an excellent article in the Engineering & Science journal, titled Pregnancy, Immunity, Schizophrenia, and Autism. I hope you’ll take the time to read this for yourself, Dr. Patterson does a great job of explaining his discovery to the uninitiated, it’s really a seminal work. Here’s a quote:
“As we learn more about the connections between the brain and the immune system, we find that these seemingly independent networks of cells are, in fact, continually talking to each other. As an adult, the activation of your immune system causes many striking changes in your behavior — increased sleep, loss of appetite, less social interaction — and, of course, headaches. Conversely, stress in your life (as perceived by your brain) can influence immune function — the brain regulates immune organs, such as the spleen, via the autonomic nervous system.
Recent evidence shows that this brain-immune conversation actually starts during the development of the embryo, where the state of the mother’s immune system can alter the growth of cells in the fetal brain. As we shall see, such alterations can lead to an increased risk of schizophrenia or autism in the offspring.”

via Healthcare In America Did Chinese scientists find autism’s missing puzzle piece?

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