Prenatal Environmental Exposures Linked to Long-Term Mitochondrial Changes in Children with Autism

April 12, 2021

Mitochondrial Dysfunction May Be Worst Offender of 3 Prenatal Physiological Abnormalities Linked to ASD

A new review published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction is the main source associated with prenatal physiological abnormalities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There are three highly recognized prenatal physiological abnormalities affiliated with autism. The “Bad Trio”, as they are sometimes referred to, are immune system dysfunction, mitochondrial dysfunction, along with oxidative stress and redox regulation. Previous reviews examining this subject considered immune system dysfunction as the key source of physiological abnormalities, while mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress played secondary roles. This review’s authors disagree with that idea and believe that mitochondrial dysfunction plays the most critical role out of the three abnormalities. The paper goes on to identify five external prenatal risk factors that increase the risk of ASD but are also associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. These risk factors include: nutritional agents (including nutritional metal exposures), both intrinsic and extrinsic stressors, common medications given in pregnancy (e.g., Tylenol and SSRI drugs), modulators of mitochondrial function, and genetic conditions that may affect the fetus. Environmental toxins were considered part of the extrinsic stressors risk factors. The researchers listed several toxins that are both implicated in an increased risk of developing ASD as well as associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. These environmental toxins include: cigarette smoke, phthalates, air pollution, organophosphate insecticides (e.g., chlorpyrifos) and organochlorine pesticides. The review states that prenatal mitochondrial function is important for brain development and that previous research has demonstrated that mitochondrial dysfunction during gestation alters white matter brain connectivity and non-radical interneuron migration. The review’s authors also point out that well functioning mitochondria are essential for important core metabolic pathways as well as for optimal functioning of the immune system, which plays an important role in brain development. They conclude that mitochondrial dysfunction during the prenatal period can have a profound effect on long-term development. In the future, the researchers hope for a better understanding of the role that mitochondria play in the development of autism so that this knowledge can lead to targeted therapeutics and strategies to potentially even prevent the disorder.

Original Study

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