Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by behavioral symptoms that become apparent in early childhood but that have lifelong debilitating effects. Early ASD diagnosis is crucial for the initiation of early behavioral therapies, which often lead to a better outcome for the affected individuals. Previous studies have shown an association between the presence of autoantibodies in the blood of the mother and the development of ASD in her child later in life. Particularly when these autoantibodies show reactivity against fetal brain proteins, studies suggest they could impair normal brain development after passing through the placenta to the brain of the developing child during pregnancy.
In this project, Veerle Somers aims to identify and characterize novel maternal autoantibodies associated with the development of ASD in offspring. A selection of maternal samples from the Simons Simplex Collection will be screened for autoantibody reactivity using serological antigen selection, a phage display approach that allows expression of human fetal brain cDNA products and isolation of the corresponding protein epitopes.
Overall, this project will allow a detailed profiling of the antibody response in mothers of children with ASD. These findings have the potential to elucidate novel predictive and diagnostic biomarkers for ASD and to uncover novel etiological mechanisms contributing to the early impairment of fetal brain development in ASD.