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Association of a MET genetic variant with autism-associated maternal autoantibodies to fetal brain proteins and cytokine expression.


The contribution of peripheral immunity to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) risk is debated and poorly understood. Some mothers of children with ASD have autoantibodies that react to fetal brain proteins, raising the possibility that a subset of ASD cases may be associated with a maternal antibody response during gestation. The mechanism by which the maternal immune system breaks tolerance has not been addressed. We hypothesized that the mechanism may involve decreased expression of the MET receptor tyrosine kinase, an ASD risk gene that also serves as a key negative regulator of immune responsiveness. In a sample of 365 mothers, including 202 mothers of children with ASD, the functional MET promoter variant rs1858830 C allele was strongly associated with the presence of an ASD-specific 37+73-kDa band pattern of maternal autoantibodies to fetal brain proteins (P=0.003). To determine the mechanism of this genetic association, we measured MET protein and cytokine production in freshly prepared peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 76 mothers of ASD and typically developing children. The MET rs1858830 C allele was significantly associated with MET protein expression (P=0.025). Moreover, decreased expression of the regulatory cytokine IL-10 was associated with both the MET gene C allele (P=0.001) and reduced MET protein levels (P=0.002). These results indicate genetic distinction among mothers who produce ASD-associated antibodies to fetal brain proteins, and suggest a potential mechanism for how a genetically determined decrease in MET protein production may lead to a reduction in immune regulation.

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