Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Infection and Autism Spectrum Disorders

In a recent study, Atladóttir et al. found correlations between prenatal exposure to maternal infection and the development of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children. It has been suggested that prenatal exposure to maternal infections may increase the risk of children developing ASD. Atladóttir et al. set out to investigate the relationship between maternal hospitalization for infection during pregnancy and development of ASD in children.

Data was collected from national registers for all children born in Denmark between 1980 and 2005. The study population included 1,612,342 children, 10,133 of whom had received ASD diagnoses. The data was analyzed based on maternal hospitalization for infection during pregnancy and ASD diagnoses in children.

The results revealed no overall correlation between ASD and maternal hospitalizations for any infections across the entire duration of pregnancy; however, findings did show ASD to be associated with maternal hospitalizations for viral infections during the first trimester, and maternal hospitalizations for bacterial infections during the second trimester.

Findings suggest that prenatal exposure to maternal viral infections within the first trimester and prenatal exposure to maternal bacterial infections within the second trimester may increase the risk of children developing ASD. Further research investigating the correlation between maternal infection during pregnancy and the development of ASD in children is warranted.


Atladóttir, H. Ó., Thorsen, P., Østergaard, L., Schendel, D. E., Lemcke, S., Abdallah, M., Parner, E. T. (2010). Maternal infection requiring hospitalization during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1423-1430. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1006-y

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