Glial cells within the cerebral cortex in autism

Rezaie, P.; Landau, S.; Mason, S. and Schmitz, C. (2007). Glial cells within the cerebral cortex in autism. In: 19th National Meeting of the British Neuroscience Association (Symposium on the Neuropathology of Autism), 1-4 Apr 2007, Harrogate, UK.


The underlying neurobiology of autism remains obscure. However, subtle disturbances in the development of neurons within the brain, and certain immune system abnormalities are believed to occur in patients with autism. Neuro-immune interactions are governed locally by networks of resident glial cells- microglia and astrocytes, whose activation parallels ongoing pathology within this tissue. Disturbances in the function of glial cells may have adverse consequences on the activity of neurons and vice versa. Neuroglial activation and neuroinflammation have been proposed to contribute towards the neuropathology of autism. Previously, we reported differential activation of microglia and astrocytes within the frontal lobe of a cohort of cases with autism (Neuropathol. Appl. Neurobiol. 2006; 32:226-227) - glial cell activation was largely restricted to astrocytes within cortical white matter (WM) in all autism cases examined. Considering that such WM astrocyte activation was not associated with diffuse axonal injury, post-mortem delay, age or history of seizures in autism, and taken together with the lack of lymphocytic/monocytic infiltration, or of significant microglial activation, we proposed that glial cell alterations do not necessarily reflect ‘neuroinflammation’ as recently suggested. Instead they may be a consequence of acute hypoxic-ischaemic injury associated with the agonal state of the cases examined, or they could represent a specific dysfunction targeting astrocytes in autism. We have now systematically investigated glial cell responses within several regions of the cerebral cortex known to be affected in autism, in a separate cohort of cases derived from the Autism Tissue Program (USA). The finding of a predominantly WM glial cell response is in keeping with our previous observations. This work was supported by National Alliance for Autism Research / Autism Speaks.

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