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Gestational Immune Activity and Autism Link Unclear

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on November 21, 2012


Background: Some scientists and medical professionals believe that changed activity of a mother’s immune system during pregnancy is linked to atypical social skills, communication and repetitive behaviors in her resulting offspring. These traits are characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but previous studies have yet to prove a definite association between infection during pregnancy and the development of ASD in humans.


What’s New:  In a report published in the online version of Pediatrics, investigators evaluated the likelihood that infections, fever and antibiotic use during pregnancy were risk factors for ASD in the developing child. Studying the medical records of almost 100,000 Danish children born between 1997 and 2003, the researchers determined how many of the 1000 children diagnosed with ASD had been exposed to the potential risk factors, which are related to immune activity in pregnant mothers. They concluded that—while ASD was more common in children whose mothers reported having influenza, prolonged fever or certain antibiotics in their systems while pregnant—the suspected link between increased immune activity of pregnant mothers and ASD in their resulting children was not strong.


Why it’s important: This exploratory study tested multiple hypotheses at once—whether infections, fever or antibiotics in pregnant women can lead to autism in their developing children. That study technique could be to blame for some of the seemingly positive associations between ASD and increased gestational immunity, so further research testing one risk factor at a time is needed to answer the question definitively.

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