Maternal antibodies from mothers of children with autism alter brain growth and social behavior development in the rhesus monkey
Antibodies directed against fetal brain proteins of 37 and 73 kDa molecular weight are found in approximately 12% of mothers who have children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but not in mothers of typically developing children.
This finding has raised the possibility that these immunoglobulin G (IgG) class antibodies cross the placenta during pregnancy and impact brain development, leading to one form of ASD.
We evaluated the pathogenic potential of these antibodies by using a nonhuman primate model.
IgG was isolated from mothers of children with ASD (IgG-ASD) and of typically developing children (IgG-CON).
The purified IgG was administered to two groups of female rhesus monkeys (IgG-ASD; n=8 and IgG-CON; n=8) during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.
Another control group of pregnant monkeys (n=8) was untreated.
Brain and behavioral development of the offspring were assessed for 2 years.
Behavioral differences were first detected when the macaque mothers responded to their IgG-ASD offspring with heightened protectiveness during early development.
As they matured, IgG-ASD offspring consistently deviated from species-typical social norms by more frequently approaching familiar peers. The increased approach was not reciprocated and did not lead to sustained social interactions.
Even more striking, IgG-ASD offspring displayed inappropriate approach behavior to unfamiliar peers, clearly deviating from normal macaque social behavior.
Longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging analyses revealed that male IgG-ASD offspring had enlarged brain volume compared with controls.
White matter volume increases appeared to be driving the brain differences in the IgG-ASD offspring and these differences were most pronounced in the frontal lobes.