A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2017 | Number 4, Volume 31

Inflamed astrocytes may contribute to autism, could point to treatment

Inflammation of astrocytes—star-shaped cells that provide support for neurons in the brain and central nervous system—may play a role in autism, according to new research. 

In the study, Fabiele Baldino Russo and colleagues took dental pulp cells from the baby teeth of three children with non-syndromic autism spectrum disorders (ASD)— that is, ASD not due to any known cause. The researchers reprogrammed the cells to become either neurons or astrocytes, and grew them into organoids, or “mini-brains.” 

Examining these organoids microscopically, the researchers found that the neurons had too few synapses and exhibited other networking defects. In addition, some astrocytes had high levels of a pro-inflammatory protein called interleukin 6 (IL-6). An excess of IL-6 is toxic to neurons. 

The researchers then combined astrocytes from the dental pulp of children with ASD with neurons from neurotypical controls and cultured them. They found that the neurons from the controls behaved like the neurons from the children with ASD. Conversely, they say, “When we co-cultured ASD neurons with normal astrocytes, we could rescue the cellular defects. The neurons reverted to normal functioning and behavior.” 

The researchers say their findings suggest that it may be possible to help some children with ASD by treating them with anti-inflammatory medications.


“Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes in autism using human induced pluripotent stem cells,” Fabiele Baldino Russo, Beatriz Camille Freitas, Graciela Conceição Pignatari, Isabella Rodrigues Fernandes, Jonathan Sebat, Alysson Renato Muotri, and Patricia Cristina Baleeiro Beltrão-Braga, Biological Psychiatry, October 3, 2017 (online). Address: Patricia Cristina Baleeiro Beltrão-Braga, Av. Prof. Dr. Orlando Marques de Paiva 87, Cidade Universitária, 05508-270, São Paulo, SP, Brazil. [email protected]


“Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism,” Scott LaFee, UC San Diego Health, October 18, 2017.