Inflammation is increasingly recognised to play a major role in gene-environment interactions in neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). The effects of aberrant immune responses to environmental stimuli in the mother and in the child can affect neuroimmune signalling that is central to brain development. Toll-like receptors (TLR) are the best known innate immune pattern and danger recognition sensors to various environmental threats. In animal models, maternal immune activation (MIA), secondary to inflammatory factors including maternal gestational infection, obesity, diabetes, and stress activate the TLR pathway in maternal blood, placenta, and fetal brain, which correlate with offspring neurobehavioral abnormalities. Given the central role of TLR activation in animal MIA models, we systematically reviewed the human evidence for TLR activation and response to stimulation across the maternal-fetal interface. Firstly, we included 59 TLR studies performed in peripheral blood of adults in general population (outside of pregnancy) with six chronic inflammatory factors which have epidemiological evidence for increased risk of offspring NDDs, namely, obesity, diabetes mellitus, depression, low socio-economic status, autoimmune diseases, and asthma. Secondly, eight TLR studies done in human pregnancies with chronic inflammatory factors, involving maternal blood, placenta, and cord blood, were reviewed. Lastly, ten TLR studies performed in peripheral blood of individuals with NDDs were included. Despite these studies, there were no studies which examined TLR function in both the pregnant mother and their offspring. Increased TLR2 and TLR4 mRNA and/or protein levels in peripheral blood were common in obesity, diabetes mellitus, depression, autoimmune thyroid disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. To a lesser degree, TLR 3, 7, 8, and 9 activation were found in peripheral blood of humans with autoimmune diseases and depression. In pregnancy, increased TLR4 mRNA levels were found in the peripheral blood of women with diabetes mellitus and systemic lupus erythematosus. Placental TLR activation was found in mothers with obesity or diabetes. Postnatally, dysregulated TLR response to stimulation was found in peripheral blood of individuals with NDDs. This systematic review found emerging evidence that TLR activation may represent a mechanistic link between maternal inflammation and offspring NDD, however the literature is incomplete and longitudinal outcome studies are lacking. Identification of pathogenic mechanisms in MIA could create preventive and therapeutic opportunities to mitigate NDD prevalence and severity.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.