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Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition characterized by impaired social interaction, behavioral problems, and poor communication. It typically manifests in early childhood and is slightly more common among boys than girls. Roughly one in 54 people living in the United States has ASD. A team of researchers has developed an assay that predicts the risk of having a child with maternal autoantibody-related autism.

Maternal autoantibody-related autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that occurs when proteins (called autoantibodies) that are produced by a pregnant woman’s immune system react with proteins in the developing fetus’s brain. It accounts for approximately 18 percent of all autism cases.

The study involved nearly 800 women enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment study, which includes mothers of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as well those with normal development. The researchers collected blood from the women and assessed the children’s health and social and cognitive development. They developed an assay to detect and quantify maternal autoantibody reactivity to eight proteins that are highly expressed in the developing brain.

The assay identified four common patterns of reactivity to some of the proteins, and these patterns correlated with having autism spectrum disorder with 100 percent accuracy. The researchers found that reactivity to a protein called CRMP1 increased the odds that a child would have autism spectrum disorder more than twofold.

These findings have relevance for women at high risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, such as those with a child previously diagnosed with the disorder or who have health conditions that have been linked with the disorder, such as metabolic syndrome during pregnancy.

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