Infection, Immune System , Epigenetics and Autism.

Epigenetic changes at gene promoters in response to immune activation in utero.

Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute La Jolla, CA


Increasing evidence suggests that maternal infection increases the risk of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism in offspring.

However, the molecular mechanisms associated with these effects are unclear.

Here, we have studied epigenetic gene regulation in mice exposed to non-specific immune activation elicited by polyI:C injection to pregnant dams.

Using Western blot analysis, we detected global hypoacetylation of histone H3, at lysine residues 9 and 14, and histone H4, at lysine residue 8, in the cortex from juvenile (∼24 days of age) offspring exposed to polyI:C in utero, but not from adult (3 months of age) offspring, which exhibit significant behavioral abnormalities.

Accordingly, we detected robust deficits in the expression of genes associated with neuronal development, synaptic transmission and immune signaling in the cortex of polyI:C-exposed juvenile mice.

In particular, we found that several genes in the glutamate receptor signaling pathway, including Gria1 and Slc17a7, showed decreases in promoter-specific histone acetylation, and corresponding gene expression deficits, in polyI:C-exposed offspring at both juvenile and adult ages.

In contrast, the expression of these same genes, in addition to Disc1 and Ntrk3, was elevated in the hippocampus of juvenile mice, in concordance with elevated levels of promoter-specific histone acetylation.

We suggest that these early epigenetic changes contribute to the delayed behavioral abnormalities that are observed in adult animals after exposure to polyI:C, and which resemble symptoms seen in schizophrenia and related disorders.


Further Readings of Interest


“Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 is a protein that is encoded by the DISC1 gene in humans.[1] In coordination with a wide array of interacting partners, DISC1 has been shown to participate in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, migration, neuronal axon and dendrite outgrowth, mitochondrial transport, fission and/or fusion, and cell-to-cell adhesion. Several studies have shown that unregulated expression or altered protein structure of DISC1 may predispose individuals to the development of schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions. The cellular functions that are disrupted by permutations in DISC1, which lead to the development of these disorders, have yet to be clearly defined and are the subject of current ongoing research.”

Maternal Infection and Immune Involvement in Autism

Paul H. Patterson, Biology Division, California Institute of Technology


This entry was posted in Autism, Epigenetics, Immune System, Inflammation, Neurology, Physiology, Schizophrenia, Treatment. Bookmark the permalink.

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