Gene*environment interactions play critical roles in the emergence of autism and schizophrenia pathophysiology. In both disorders, recent genetic association studies have provided evidence for disease-linked variation in immune system genes and postmortem gene expression studies have shown extensive chronic immune abnormalities in brains of diseased subjects. Furthermore, peripheral biomarker studies revealed that both innate and adaptive immune systems are dysregulated. In both disorders symptoms of the disease correlate with the immune system dysfunction; yet, in autism this process appears to be chronic and sustained, while in schizophrenia it is exacerbated during acute episodes. Furthermore, since immune abnormalities endure into adulthood and anti-inflammatory agents appear to be beneficial, it is likely that these immune changes actively contribute to disease symptoms. Modeling these changes in animals provided further evidence that prenatal maternal immune activation alters neurodevelopment and leads to behavioral changes that are relevant for autism and schizophrenia. The converging evidence strongly argues that neurodevelopmental immune insults and genetic background critically interact and result in increased risk for either autism or schizophrenia. Further research in these areas may improve prenatal health screening in genetically at-risk families and may also lead to new preventive and/or therapeutic strategies.
- Maternal immune activation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience