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Open Access Research

Increased midgestational IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-5 in women bearing a child with autism: A case-control study

Paula E Goines12, Lisa A Croen3, Daniel Braunschweig12, Cathleen K Yoshida3, Judith Grether4, Robin Hansen25, Martin Kharrazi6, Paul Ashwood27 and Judy Van de Water12*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology, University of California at Davis, 451 Health Sciences Dr. Suite 6510, Davis, CA 95616, USA

2 M.I.N.D. Institute, 2825 50th Street, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA

3 Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente, 2000 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612, USA

4 Environmental Health Investigations Branch, California Department of Public Health, Richmond, CA 94804, USA

5 Department of Pediatrics, 2521 Stockton Boulevard, Suite 4100. Sacramento, CA 95817, USA

6 Genetic Disease Screening Program, California Department of Public Health, Richmond, CA 94804, USA

7 Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, One Shields Ave, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA

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Molecular Autism 2011, 2:13  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-2-13

Published: 2 August 2011



Immune anomalies have been documented in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and their family members. It is unknown whether the maternal immune profile during pregnancy is associated with the risk of bearing a child with ASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders.


Using Luminex technology, levels of 17 cytokines and chemokines were measured in banked serum collected from women at 15 to 19 weeks of gestation who gave birth to a child ultimately diagnosed with (1) ASD (n = 84), (2) a developmental delay (DD) but not autism (n = 49) or (3) no known developmental disability (general population (GP); n = 159). ASD and DD risk associated with maternal cytokine and chemokine levels was estimated by using multivariable logistic regression analysis.


Elevated concentrations of IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-5 in midgestation maternal serum were significantly associated with a 50% increased risk of ASD, regardless of ASD onset type and the presence of intellectual disability. By contrast, elevated concentrations of IL-2, IL-4 and IL-6 were significantly associated with an increased risk of DD without autism.


The profile of elevated serum IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-5 was more common in women who gave birth to a child subsequently diagnosed with ASD. An alternative profile of increased IL-2, IL-4 and IL-6 was more common for women who gave birth to a child subsequently diagnosed with DD without autism. Further investigation is needed to characterize the relationship between these divergent maternal immunological phenotypes and to evaluate their effect on neurodevelopment.