Mast Cells, Stress, Fear and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Affiliation

Molecular Immunopharmacology and Drug Discovery Laboratory, Department of Immunology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA. [Email]

Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition characterized by impaired communication and obsessive behavior that affects 1 in 59 children. ASD is expected to affect 1 in about 40 children by 2020, but there is still no distinct pathogenesis or effective treatments. Prenatal stress has been associated with higher risk of developing ASD in the offspring. Moreover, children with ASD cannot handle anxiety and respond disproportionately even to otherwise benign triggers. Stress and environmental stimuli trigger the unique immune cells, mast cells, which could then trigger microglia leading to abnormal synaptic pruning and dysfunctional neuronal connectivity. This process could alter the "fear threshold" in the amygdala and lead to an exaggerated "fight-or-flight" reaction. The combination of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), secreted under stress, together with environmental stimuli could be major contributors to the pathogenesis of ASD. Recognizing these associations and preventing stimulation of mast cells and/or microglia could greatly benefit ASD patients.

Keywords

CRH,autism spectrum disorder,mast cells,stress,

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