Early Life Immune Activation, Autism, and Seizures

For all you other parents of children with epilepsy and/or autism and/or other related developmental issues, some pretty depressing – but also, extremely important – research was just published by scientists at McLean Hospital:  “…even a brief episode of immune system activation within days of birth can cause persistent changes in sleep patterns concurrent with increases in epilepsy-like brain activity—a combination of symptoms common in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental conditions.”[i]

Says the senior author of the paper, “A growing body of evidence suggests that immune system activation, such as that caused by bacterial and viral infections, can play important roles in many brain disorders…While previous research in laboratory animals has established that immune activation during critical prenatal (before birth) developmental periods can later produce the core features of ASD, including decreased social interaction, aberrant communication, and increased repetitive behavior, we wanted to evaluate whether postnatal (during infancy) immune activation could also produce other symptom clusters that are often seen in ASD and related conditions.”

To determine whether post-natal immune activation can cause these brain disruptions, the researchers treated infant mice with LPS (lipopolysaccharides are chemicals produced by bad bacteria).  The pups were implanted with micro-transmitters that allowed the scientists to collect information on sleep, movement and activity levels.  They followed the mice for 12 weeks, until they were considered adult mice.

The findings were disheartening, to say the least.  Firstly, the mice spent less time in slow-wave sleep, which is associated with systemic inflammation.  Secondly, the mice had bouts of abnormal brain wave activity, similar to those seen in epilepsy.

Looking at these findings, in conjunction with everything else we already know is happening to our babies (i.e. maternal immune activation predisposes infants to inflammation, alterations of the maternal biome affect the infant, alterations of the infant biome affect development, etc.), it’s really no surprise that autism is at epidemic levels.  Remember that the mice used in this study, in all likelihood, were born to mothers who did not have “wild mice” gut biomes, and that they were raised in cages – not in the wild.  A crucially important piece of research:  do the exact same study but with rodents born of biome-enriched mothers, and raised in biome-enriched settings.

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[i] Missiq, G, Mokler, EL, Robbins, JO, Alexander, AJ, McDougle, CJ, Carlezon, WA Jr. Perinatal Immune Activation Produces persistent Sleep Alterations and Epileptiform Activity in male Mice.  Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Feb;43(3):482-491.


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