Post-Mortem Study Links Brain Inflammation to Autism and Schizophrenia

October 23, 2023

Sample Donors Had Experienced Inflammation from Encephalitis and Severe Asthma Attacks

Neuroscientists from the University of Maryland have discovered how inflammation in the brain during early childhood can affect human brain cells and their development, offering a potential mechanism for the link between inflammation and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. The authors conducted a post-mortem analysis of brain tissues from 17 children. Eight had died from conditions related to inflammation (encephalitis and severe asthma attacks), and the other nine had been in accidents. The researchers discovered that two specific types of brain cells found in the cerebellum—the Golgi neurons and the Purkinje neurons—were particularly vulnerable to brain inflammation. The cerebellum is an area of the brain involved in movement, balance, motor learning, and speech. It is one of the first brain regions to begin developing and one of the last to reach its maturity. The current study is the first to show these results in humans, validating previous animal-based studies and opening up new avenues for potential treatments for children with autism and teens with schizophrenia. However, the authors point out that it is not yet clear whether targeting inflammation would block its effects on brain development, and more work needs to be done to confirm these associations.

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