A study in experimental models suggests that allopregnanolone (ALLO), one of many hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy, is so essential to normal fetal brain development that when provision of that hormone decreases or stops abruptly - as occurs with premature birth - offspring are more likely to develop autism-like behaviors. A Children's National Hospital research team reports the findings Oct. 20, 2019, at the Neuroscience 2019 annual meeting in Chicago (October 19-23) (https://www.sfn.org/meetings/neuroscience-2019). The presentation was titled “"Preterm ASD Risk Linked to Cerebellar White Matter Changes.” "To our knowledge, no other research team has studied how placental allopregnanolone (ALLO) contributes to brain development and long-term behaviors," says Claire-Marie Vacher, PhD, lead author. "Our study finds that targeted loss of ALLO in the womb leads to long-term structural alterations of the cerebellum - a brain region that is essential for motor coordination, balance, and social cognition - and increases the risk of developing autism," Dr. Vacher says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 10 infants is born preterm, before 37 weeks gestation; and 1 in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder. In addition to presenting the abstract on Sunday, Anna Penn, MD, PhD, the abstract's senior author, discussed the research with reporters on Monday, October 21, during a Neuroscience 2019 news conference. This Children's National abstract is among 14,000 abstracts submitted for the meeting, the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. ALLO production by the placenta rises in the second trimester of pregnancy, and levels of the neurosteroid peak as fetuses approach full term.
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