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Maternal immune activation connected to schizophrenia and Autism

Posted Oct 01 2007 12:00am

Stephen Smith and colleagues have discovered why mothers who have been exposed to infectious agents during pregnancy produce offspring that have abnormalities in behavior, histology, and gene expression similar to what is seen in schizophrenia and autism. Working with rodents in the lab of Paul Patterson at California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA, US), Mr. Smith and his colleagues showed that interleukin-6 is at least partially responsible for mediating the behavioral and genetic changes in the offspring.

A team of California Institute of Technology researchers has found an unexpected link connecting schizophrenia and autism to the importance of covering your mouth whenever you sneeze.

It has been known for some time that schizophrenia is more common among people born in the winter and spring months, as well as in people born following influenza epidemics. Recent studies suggest that if a woman suffers even one respiratory infection during her second trimester, her offspring’s risk of schizophrenia rises by three to seven times.

Since schizophrenia and autism have a strong (though elusive) genetic component, there is no absolute certainty that infection will cause the disorders in a given case, but it is believed that as many as 21 percent of known cases of schizophrenia may have been triggered in this way. The conclusion is that susceptibility to these disorders is increased by something that occurs to mother or fetus during a bout with the flu.

Now, researchers have isolated a protein that plays a pivotal role in that dire chain of events.

Link to the public abstract of the study from the Journal of Neuroscience. PhysOrg.com coverage quoted here.

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