Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Neuro-Immunometabolic Hypothesis of the Developmental Origins. Academic Article uri icon


  • Fetal neuroinflammation and prenatal stress (PS) may contribute to lifelong neurological disabilities. Astrocytes and microglia, among the brain's non-neuronal "glia" cell populations, play a pivotal role in neurodevelopment and predisposition to and initiation of disease throughout lifespan. One of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders manifesting between 1-4 years of age is the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A pathological glial-neuronal interplay is thought to increase the risk for clinical manifestation of ASD in at-risk children, but the mechanisms remain poorly understood, and integrative, multi-scale models are needed. We propose a model that integrates the data across the scales of physiological organization, from genome to phenotype, and provides a foundation to explain the disparate findings on the genomic level. We hypothesize that via gene-environment interactions, fetal neuroinflammation and PS may reprogram glial immunometabolic phenotypes that impact neurodevelopment and neurobehavior. Drawing on genomic data from the recently published series of ovine and rodent glial transcriptome analyses with fetuses exposed to neuroinflammation or PS, we conducted an analysis on the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) Gene database. We confirmed 21 gene hits. Using unsupervised statistical network analysis, we then identified six clusters of probable protein-protein interactions mapping onto the immunometabolic and stress response networks and epigenetic memory. These findings support our hypothesis. We discuss the implications for ASD etiology, early detection, and novel therapeutic approaches. We conclude with delineation of the next steps to verify our model on the individual gene level in an assumption-free manner. The proposed model is of interest for the multidisciplinary community of stakeholders engaged in ASD research, the development of novel pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments, early prevention, and detection as well as for policy makers.

published proceedings

  • Biology (Basel)

author list (cited authors)

  • Frasch, M. G., Yoon, B., Helbing, D. L., Snir, G., Antonelli, M. C., & Bauer, R.

complete list of authors

  • Frasch, Martin G||Yoon, Byung-Jun||Helbing, Dario Lucas||Snir, Gal||Antonelli, Marta C||Bauer, Reinhard

publication date

  • June 2023