New Clues on How Inflammation in Young Children’s Brains Might Spur Autism

Uncovering the Link Between Early Childhood Brain Inflammation and Autism

New insights on how inflammation in young children’s brains could contribute to autism.

By Ernie Mundell HealthDay Reporter

Severe inflammation very early in childhood might hamper the development of key brain cells, perhaps setting the stage for conditions such as autism or schizophrenia, according to new research. This finding sheds light on the mysterious origins of many neurodevelopment disorders.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, focused on the cerebellum, a critical region of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions, language, social interactions, and emotional regulation. The cerebellum is particularly intriguing because it is one of the first brain regions to develop and one of the last to reach maturity.

To study the impact of inflammation on brain cells, the team used a cutting-edge technology called single nucleus RNA sequencing. The researchers examined cerebellum tissues from 17 young children, eight of whom died from an inflammatory condition and nine who died in accidents.

In their analysis, the researchers observed consistent genetic patterns in the cerebella of deceased children who had experienced severe inflammatory conditions, such as bacterial or viral infections and asthma. Specifically, two types of brain cells in the cerebellum, Purkinje and Golgi neurons, appeared to be particularly vulnerable to inflammatory damage.

The Purkinje neurons form synapses that connect the cerebellum to other brain regions involved in cognition and emotional control, while Golgi neurons coordinate communication between cells within the cerebellum. Disruption of these critical developmental processes can contribute to conditions like autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

This groundbreaking study provides valuable insight into how inflammation during early childhood affects brain development and opens up possibilities for future treatments for autism and schizophrenia. By understanding the disruptions that occur in brain cells at a young age, we can potentially develop interventions that can mitigate the impact of these conditions.

This study is part of a larger effort to map and understand the variety of cells in the human brain. Researchers from multiple institutions are collaborating to unravel the complexities of the brain and uncover new strategies for addressing neurological disorders.

To learn more about autism, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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  • University of Maryland School of Medicine, news release, Oct. 12, 2023
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention