Environmental factors are thought to contribute to the development of a range of human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Interestingly, the incidence of IBD is higher in patients with autism, compared to those without. We propose that inflammation to which a developing embryo may be exposed in the maternal womb, could be an environmental risk factor linking autism and IBD.
We previously showed that a particular type of immune cells, Th17 cells, in mothers, promotes autism-like phenotypes in offspring, using a mouse model of inflammation-induced neurodevelopmental disorders (i.e. autism). Th17 cells, and the pathways that control them, are also implicated in IBD. We propose that prenatal, maternal inflammation, through Th17 cells both enhances autistic phenotypes and increases IBD susceptibility in offspring. Our work thus aims to elucidate the intricate connection between maternal inflammation, autism and IBD. In addition, this research will lay the foundation for future studies to identify novel therapeutics for treating maternal inflammation- induced IBD.