Several genetic causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been identified. However, more recent work has highlighted that certain environmental exposures early in life may also account for some cases of autism. Environmental insults during pregnancy, such as infection or malnutrition, seem to dramatically impact brain development. Maternal viral or bacterial infections have been characterized as disruptors of brain shaping, even if their underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood. Poor nutritional diversity, as well as nutrient deficiency, is strongly associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in children. For instance, imbalanced levels of essential fatty acids, and especially polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), are observed in patients with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia). Interestingly, PUFAs, and specifically n-3 PUFAs, are powerful immunomodulators that exert anti-inflammatory properties. These prenatal dietary and immunologic factors not only impact the fetal brain, but also affect the microbiota. Recent work suggests that the microbiota could be the missing link between environmental insults in prenatal life and future neurodevelopmental disorders. As both nutrition and inflammation can massively affect the microbiota, we discuss here how understanding the crosstalk between these three actors could provide a promising framework to better elucidate ASD etiology.
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