Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a range of neurodevelopmental disorders with deficits in social communication and in social interactions as their core symptoms . Many genes have been implicated in the etiologies underlying ASDs, but it is becoming increasingly clear that environmental factors play a very important role too. One of the more well-known environmental factors that play a role in the etiology of ASDs is prenatal stress, more specifically maternal immune activation (MIA).
MIA is often more detrimental to male than to female offspring. This is very interesting, given that ASDs, as well as many other neurodevelopmental disorders, show a strong male bias in incidence. We investigate whether microglia play a role in the sex-specific vulnerability to prenatal stress on brain and (social) behaviors relevant to ASDs in a wild type mouse model. Microglia are the innate immune cells of the brain and are activated following (prenatal) stress, but also play a pivotal role in masculinization of brain and behavior. This line of research, set up by Dr. S.M. Schaafsma, may elucidate the mechanism underlying the sex-specific vulnerability to prenatal stress, with possible important implications for research focusing on ASDs and other neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders.
This research is a collaborative effort between the Joëls and Hol labs.