Potential for early-life immune insult including developmental immunotoxicity in autism and autism spectrum disorders: focus on critical windows of im

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Authors: Rodney R. Dietert a; Janice M. Dietert b
Affiliations: a Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
b Performance Plus Consulting, 2006, Lansing, New York, USA

Abstract

Early-life immune insults (ELII) including xenobiotic-induced developmental immunotoxicity (DIT) are important factors in childhood and adult chronic diseases. However, prenatal and perinatal environmentally induced immune alterations have yet to be considered in depth in the context of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Numerous factors produce early-life-induced immune dysfunction in offspring, including exposure to xenobiotics, maternal infections, and other prenatal-neonatal stressors. Early life sensitivity to ELII, including DIT, results from the heightened vulnerability of the developing immune system to disruption and the serious nature of the adverse outcomes arising after disruption of one-time immune maturational events. The resulting health risks extend beyond infectious diseases, cancer, allergy, and autoimmunity to include pathologies of the neurological, reproductive, and endocrine systems. Because these changes may include misregulation of resident inflammatory myelomonocytic cells in tissues such as the brain, they are a potential concern in cases of prenatal-neonatal brain pathologies and neurobehavioral deficits. Autism and ASDs are chronic developmental neurobehavioral disorders that are on the rise in the United States with prenatal and perinatal environmental factors suspected as contributors to this increase. Evidence for an association between environmentally associated childhood immune dysfunction and ASDs suggests that ELII and DIT may contribute to these conditions. However, it is not known if this linkage is directly associated with the brain pathologies or represents a separate (or secondary) outcome. This review considers the known features of ELII and DIT and how they may provide important clues to prenatal brain inflammation and the risk of autism and ASDs.

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