- Nearly one-third of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) also have epilepsy, but why this is the case is not known.
- While it is possible that epilepsy can cause autism, or autism can cause epilepsy, the current scientific view is that there are shared neurological mechanisms that contribute to both ASD and epilepsy.
- A few genes that might underlie this phenomenon have been discovered, but an important factor is maternal stress.
Basic Science Editor Dr. Sloka Iyengar discusses a study on maternal stress and its connection to ASD and epilepsy.
Studying Maternal Stress
- To see whether maternal stress was sufficient to produce ASD and epilepsy, the authors of a recent paper did experiments on rats.
- The scientists used pregnant rats and wanted to see the effects of two maternal stressors (agents that cause stress) on the rat pups when they grew up.
- The first stressor was a mild foot shock, which was done after making sure the rats do not feel unnecessary pain.
- The second stressor was a drug called terbuataline, which is frequently used in people to arrest pre-term labor.
- The authors found that when they grew up, the pups of the mothers that were given both stressors together showed behaviors similar to those seen in ASD and seizures as well.
What does this mean?
Until now, there was not a good model to understand why and how ASD and epilepsy can exist together. This study gives the scientific community a valid model to study the cause and also to investigate new therapies.