Published online Feb 26, 2019. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v11.i2.55
Peer-review started: October 10, 2018
First decision: November 27, 2018
Revised: December 30, 2018
Accepted: January 22, 2019
Article in press: January 23, 2019
Published online: February 26, 2019
Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) refer to a range of conditions characterized by impaired social and communication skills and repetitive behaviors caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. Although the pathophysiology underlying ASD is still unclear, recent evidence suggests that immune dysregulation and neuroinflammation play a role in the etiology of ASD. In particular, there is direct evidence supporting a role for maternal immune activation during prenatal life in neurodevelopmental conditions. Currently, the available options of behavioral therapies and pharmacological and supportive nutritional treatments in ASD are only symptomatic. Given the disturbing rise in the incidence of ASD, and the fact that there is no effective pharmacological therapy for ASD, there is an urgent need for new therapeutic options. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) possess immunomodulatory properties that make them relevant to several diseases associated with inflammation and tissue damage. The paracrine regenerative mechanisms of MSCs are also suggested to be therapeutically beneficial for ASD. Thus the underlying pathology in ASD, including immune system dysregulation and inflammation, represent potential targets for MSC therapy. This review will focus on immune dysfunction in the pathogenesis of ASD and will further discuss the therapeutic potential for MSCs in mediating ASD-related immunological disorders.
Core tip: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex, behaviorally defined disorder characterized by severe impairments in social communication and repetitive behavior. Because of an incomplete understanding of the pathology of ASD, available treatment options in ASD are only symptomatic. We discuss the role of immune dysfunction in the etiology of ASD and function of mesenchymal stem cells. We summarize the pre-clinical and clinical evidence for mesenchymal stem cell therapy in ASD and suggest that more basic experiments are needed to better understand the therapeutic mechanisms of mesenchymal stem cells in ASD.