Alan Brown, an epidemiologist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has provided critical evidence establishing maternal infection as a risk factor for schizophrenia in the offspring. He has now turned his attention to autism. In a paper published on line this week, he and collaborators from Finland report that when an established serum biomarker of inflammation, C-reactive protein (CRP), is high in maternal serum, the risk for autism in the offspring is significantly increased. While there are several conditions that can increase CRP levels, infection is a very common cause. This study makes use of the centralized database of all births in Finland between 1987 and 2007. This includes 1.2 million births and 1132 cases of autism. Serum samples taken from the mothers during the first and early second trimester of pregnancy were available in 677 cases. Thus, this is a large and well-controlled study. The finding that inflammation during pregnancy increases risk is consistent with prior reports of autism associations with elevated cytokines in maternal serum and in amniotic fluid, as I have noted in prior posts here.
Oops, must depart to referee a soccer game. Will return later to discuss my favorite drug.