Maternal infection during pregnancy and offspring autism risk

pregnancyMaternal infection during pregnancy leading to hospitalisation may increase the risk of offspring autism according to a new study from a consortium of research groups published by Brian Lee and colleagues*.

Drawing on data collected from over 2 million pregnancies in Sweden between 1984 and 2007, researchers looked at defined cases of infection occurring during pregnancy coupled with subsequent data on receipt of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring. They concluded that there was “a 30% increase in ASD risk associated with any inpatient diagnosis of infection”. Further, that risk of offspring ASD following maternal infection was present across all time of pregnancy and “infections were associated with greater risk of ASD with intellectual disability than for ASD without intellectual disability”.

This is not the first time that research has hinted that maternal infection during the critical nine months of pregnancy may influence autism or other condition risk in offspring. Previous studies have arrived at similar conclusions, albeit with gaps in the knowledge base about how such infections may interact with the developing child. The specific focus on infections serious enough to lead to hospitalisation of the pregnant mother, distinct from a role for mild infections which everyone occasionally gets, potentially provides some clues as to the underlying processes at work dealing with immune response to pathogens such as bacteria or viruses or some role for inflammatory processes which form part of that human body response to infection.


* Lee BK. et al. Maternal hospitalization with infection during pregnancy and risk of autism spectrum disorders. Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Sep 10. pii: S0889-1591(14)00452-8.

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