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Mothers’ Pesticide Levels Linked to Increased Risk of Autism in Children

Summary: Researchers have found evidence that elevated pesticide levels in pregnant woman is associated with an increased risk of their child being diagnosed with ASD.

Source: American Psychological Association.

A new study appearing online today from the American Journal of Psychiatry finds that elevated pesticide levels in pregnant women are associated with an increased risk of autism among their children.

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with largely unknown causes. It is characterized by problems with communication, difficulty relating to people and events, and repetitive body movements or behaviors. The study examined whether elevated maternal levels of persistent organic pollutants are associated with autism among children. Persistent organic pollutants are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world.

The study examined levels of DDE (p,p’-dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene), a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Although DDT and other persistent organic pollutants were widely banned in many countries decades ago, they persist in the food chain, resulting in continuous exposure among populations. These chemicals transfer across the placenta, resulting in potential prenatal exposure among nearly all children because of existing maternal body burdens.

The researchers evaluated levels of DDE in maternal serum samples drawn from more than 750 children with autism and matched control subjects from a national birth cohort study, the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism. The odds of autism among children were significantly increased in mothers whose DDE levels were elevated (defined as the 75th percentile or greater). In addition, the odds of children having autism with intellectual disability were increased more than twofold with maternal DDE levels above this threshold. While these results indicate an association, they do not prove causation, although the findings persisted after controlling for confounding factors.

mom and baby

The authors conclude that their findings “provide the first biomarker-based evidence that maternal exposure to insecticides is associated with autism among offspring.” NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

The study also evaluated mothers’ levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), chemicals used in industry, and found no association with autism in children.

The authors conclude that their findings “provide the first biomarker-based evidence that maternal exposure to insecticides is associated with autism among offspring.” Although further research is needed, this study contributes to the understanding of autism and has implications for preventing this disorder, the authors note.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded this study.

Source: Erin Connors – American Psychological Association
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Association of Maternal Insecticide Levels With Autism in Offspring From a National Birth Cohort” by Alan S. Brown, M.D., M.P.H., Keely Cheslack-Postava, Ph.D., Panu Rantakokko, Ph.D., Hannu Kiviranta, Ph.D., Susanna Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki, Ph.D., Ian W. McKeague, Ph.D., Heljä-Marja Surcel, Ph.D., and Andre Sourander, M.D., Ph.D. in American Journal of Psychiatry Published August 16 2018.
doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17101129

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
American Psychological Association”Mothers’ Pesticide Levels Linked to Increased Risk of Autism in Children.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 16 August 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/asd-pesticides-9708/>.
American Psychological Association(2018, August 16). Mothers’ Pesticide Levels Linked to Increased Risk of Autism in Children. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved August 16, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/asd-pesticides-9708/
American Psychological Association”Mothers’ Pesticide Levels Linked to Increased Risk of Autism in Children.” http://neurosciencenews.com/asd-pesticides-9708/ (accessed August 16, 2018).

Abstract

Association of Maternal Insecticide Levels With Autism in Offspring From a National Birth Cohort

Objective:
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with a largely unknown etiology. To date, few studies have investigated prenatal exposure to toxins and risk of autism by using maternal biomarkers of exposure. Persistent organic pollutants are lipophilic halogenated organic compounds and include the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), as well as its metabolite p,p′-dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene (p,p′-DDE), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The objective of this study was to test whether elevated maternal levels of persistent organic pollutants are associated with autism among offspring.

Method:
The investigation was derived from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism, a national birth cohort study based on a nested case-control design. Cases of autism among children born between 1987 and 2005 were ascertained by national registry linkages. In cases of childhood autism and matched control subjects (778 matched case-control pairs), maternal serum specimens from early pregnancy were assayed for levels of p,p′-DDE and total levels of PCBs.

Results:
The odds of autism among offspring were significantly increased with maternal p,p′-DDE levels that were in the highest 75th percentile, with adjustment for maternal age, parity, and history of psychiatric disorders (odds ratio=1.32, 95% CI=1.02, 1.71). The odds of autism with intellectual disability were increased by greater than twofold with maternal p,p′-DDE levels above this threshold (odds ratio=2.21, 95% CI=1.32, 3.69). There was no association between total levels of maternal PCBs and autism.

Conclusions:
These findings provide the first biomarker-based evidence that maternal exposure to insecticides is associated with autism among offspring. Although further research is necessary to replicate this finding, this study has implications for the prevention of autism and may provide a better understanding of its pathogenesis.

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