Summary: According to a new mouse study, exposure to vitamin D during pregnancy may prevent autistic traits in offspring.
Source: University of Queensland.
Giving vitamin D supplements to mice during pregnancy prevents autism traits in their offspring, University of Queensland researchers have discovered.
The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development, said lead researcher Professor Darryl Eyles, from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute.
“Our study used the most widely accepted developmental model of autism in which affected mice behave abnormally and show deficits in social interaction, basic learning and stereotyped behaviours,” Professor Eyles said.
“We found that pregnant females treated with active vitamin D in the equivalent of the first trimester of pregnancy produced offspring that did not develop these deficits.”
In human studies, QBI researchers recently found a link between pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits.
Autism — or autism spectrum disorder — describes lifelong developmental disabilities including difficulty or inability to communicate with others and interact socially.
Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D — which skin cells manufacture in response to UV rays — but it is also found in some foods.
Dr Wei Luan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, said vitamin D was crucial for maintaining healthy bones, but the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing foetus.
“Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol – the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women — is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream,” said Dr Luan.
“This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women.
It was previously thought vitamin D had a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development, but the study didn’t find this to be the case.
New funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council will allow researchers to continue to study how vitamin D protects against autism.
Funding: This study was funded by the National Health, Medical Research Council.
Source: Darryl Eyles – University of Queensland
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Original Research: Full open access research for “Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes in a mouse model of maternal immune activation” by Stephanie Vuillermot, Wei Luan, Urs Meyer, and Darryl Eyles in Molecular Autism. Published online March 7 2017 doi:10.1186/s13229-017-0125-0
Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes in a mouse model of maternal immune activation
Prenatal exposure to infection is a recognized environmental risk factor for neuropsychiatric disorders of developmental origins such as autism or schizophrenia. Experimental work in animals indicates that this link is mediated by maternal immune activation (MIA) involving interactions between cytokine-associated inflammatory events, oxidative stress, and other pathophysiological processes such as hypoferremia and zinc deficiency. Maternal administration of the viral mimic polyriboinosinic-polyribocytidylic acid (poly(I:C)) in mice produces several behavioral phenotypes in adult offspring of relevance to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Here, we investigated whether some of these phenotypes might also present in juveniles. In addition, given the known immunomodulatory and neuroprotective effects of vitamin D, we also investigated whether the co-administration of vitamin D could block MIA-induced ASD-related behaviors. We co-administered the hormonally active form of vitamin D, 1α,25 dihydroxy vitamin D3 (1,25OHD), simultaneously with poly(I:C) and examined (i) social interaction, stereotyped behavior, emotional learning and memory, and innate anxiety-like behavior in juveniles and (ii) the levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α in maternal plasma and fetal brains.
We show that like adult offspring that were exposed to MIA, juveniles display similar deficits in social approach behavior. Juvenile MIA offspring also show abnormal stereotyped digging and impaired acquisition and expression of tone-cued fear conditioning. Importantly, our study reveals that prenatal administration of 1,25OHD abolishes all these behavioral deficits in poly(I:C)-treated juveniles. However, prenatal administration of vitamin D had no effect on pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in dams or in fetal brains suggesting the anti-inflammatory actions of vitamin D are not the critical mechanism for its preventive actions in this ASD animal model.
This work raises the possibility that early dietary supplementation with vitamin D may open new avenues for a successful attenuation or even prevention of neurodevelopmental disorders following maternal inflammation during pregnancy.
“Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes in a mouse model of maternal immune activation” by Stephanie Vuillermot, Wei Luan, Urs Meyer, and Darryl Eyles in Molecular Autism. Published online March 7 2017 doi:10.1186/s13229-017-0125-0