“Unlocking the Immune Puzzle: Exploring the Role of Natural Killer Cells & Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Autism Spectrum Disorder”

Christel Payseng
6 min readApr 5, 2024

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition marked by challenges in social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and narrow interests. While its exact causes remain elusive, there’s growing interest in the potential role of immune system dysfunction in its development.

In its most severe form, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a long-term condition that significantly limits an individual’s potential. In the United States, supporting someone with ASD throughout their lifetime can cost between $1.4 and $2.4 million, depending on the severity of their condition. Apart from the financial strain, ASD poses significant challenges to social integration and places a heavy emotional burden on families.

Currently, there is no effective medical treatment available to address the core symptoms of ASD, such as communication difficulties, social challenges, and lack of empathy. Treatment options mainly consist of non-specific medications, along with behavioral, occupational, and speech therapies, as well as specialized educational and vocational support. While medications like psychotropic drugs may be prescribed to manage symptoms like irritability, seizures, or mood disorders, they do not fundamentally change the course of the disorder.

NK cells are crucial for immune regulation and defense, and alterations in their function have been implicated in ASD.

Studies have shown differences in the frequency, gene expressions, cytotoxicity features, and receptors of NK cells in children with ASD and their parents. These immune dysregulations, particularly during early brain development, may contribute to the onset of neurodevelopmental disorders.

While the exact mechanisms linking NK cells to ASD are still being investigated, emerging evidence suggests potential therapeutic avenues. Immune therapy targeting immune abnormalities in children with ASD has shown promise. However, further research is needed to understand the role of NK cells in ASD pathology fully and to develop effective treatment options.

There is huge potential involvement of NK cells in the development of ASD, offering insights into the complex interplay between the immune system and neurological conditions.

Understanding these connections may pave the way for novel therapeutic approaches aimed at addressing immune dysregulation in individuals with ASD.

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Although the exact causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not fully understood, recent research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in its development.

Genetic studies have identified certain mutations and variations in genes associated with synaptic function that increase the risk of ASD. However, specific genetic causes are found in less than 20% of cases, indicating a complex interplay between genetics and environmental factors.

Environmental factors linked to ASD risk include prematurity, birth complications, maternal exposure to teratogens, environmental toxins, and older parental age. Additionally, inflammation and immune dysfunction have been implicated in ASD.

Given these findings, there is growing interest in immunoregulatory treatments for ASD.

Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) have shown promise due to their ability to regulate the immune system. While much of the focus has been on their ability to suppress T-cell proliferation, studies have also shown their effects on other immune cells’ function and differentiation.

Possible Effect of the Use of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells in the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs), discovered by Friedenstein 45 years ago, have been extensively studied and found in various tissues like bone marrow, adipose tissue, umbilical cord blood, and placenta. They are easily isolated and cultured in the lab.

MSCs were defined in 2006 by the International Society of Cellular Therapy (ISCT) MSC committee as cells with specific characteristics and abilities, including the ability to differentiate into bone, fat, and cartilage cells.

MSCs primarily function through immunomodulation, particularly in response to inflammation in the body. They interact with the immune system, influencing both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses. Despite initially being considered immune-privileged, they can exhibit immune evasive properties, especially when exposed to inflammatory environments.

Regarding safety, MSCs collected from bone marrow, umbilical cord, and adipose tissue have been extensively studied in clinical trials worldwide involving thousands of individuals with various conditions. These trials have consistently demonstrated the safety of MSC treatment, with no significant association found between MSC therapy and adverse events such as toxicity, infection, thrombotic events, or malignancy.

In summary, MSCs hold promise as a potential treatment option due to their immunomodulatory properties and demonstrated safety profile in clinical trials.

The exact way Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) work in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is still being studied, but there are several potential ways they might help.

MSCs could help by changing how the immune system works, which might be especially helpful for people with ASD who have ongoing problems with their immune system.

They could also protect the brain from damage caused by inflammation by stopping certain cells from dying and reducing stress in the brain. Some studies have shown that MSCs from umbilical cord blood can help nerve cells survive by releasing helpful substances.

MSCs might also reduce the number and activity of certain brain cells called microglial cells, which are important in ASD development. It’s not clear if this happens directly because of the MSCs or because they trigger certain proteins in the body. Lastly, MSCs might also help the brain make new connections and repair damaged ones by releasing substances that help brain cells grow.

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References:

Abrahams, B. S., and Geschwind, D. H. (2010). Connecting Genes to Brain in the Autism Spectrum Disorders. Arch. Neurol. 67, 395–399. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.47

Aggarwal, S., and Pittenger, M. F. (2005). Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Modulate Allogeneic Immune Cell Responses. Blood 105, 1815–1822. doi:10.1182/blood-2004–04–1559

The role of CD56bright NK cells in neurodegenerative disorders.

Rodriguez-Mogeda C, van Ansenwoude CMJ, van der Molen L, Strijbis EMM, Mebius RE, de Vries HE.J Neuroinflammation. 2024 Feb 13;21(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s12974–024–03040–8.

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Christel Payseng

Writer, PR Media, Literature Hobbyists, Digital Marketer