Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Prenatal Inflammation Linked to Autism Risk

Maternal inflammation during early pregnancy may be related to an increased risk of autism in children, according to new findings supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers found this in children of mothers with elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), a well-established marker of systemic inflammation.

The risk of autism among children in the study was increased by 43 percent among mothers with CRP levels in the top 20th percentile, and by 80 percent for maternal CRP in the top 10th percentile. The findings appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and add to mounting evidence that an overactive immune response can alter the development of the central nervous system in the fetus.

“Elevated CRP is a signal that the body is undergoing a response to inflammation from, for example, a viral or bacterial infection,” said lead scientist on the study, Alan Brown, M.D., professor of clinical psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Mailman School of Public Health. “The higher the level of CRP in the mother, the greater the risk of autism in the child.”

Brown cautioned that the results should be viewed in perspective since the prevalence of inflammation during pregnancy is substantially higher than the prevalence of autism.

“The vast majority of mothers with increased CRP levels will not give birth to children with autism,” Brown said. “We don’t know enough yet to suggest routine testing of pregnant mothers for CRP for this reason alone; however, exercising precautionary measures to prevent infections during pregnancy may be of considerable value.”

“The brain develops rapidly throughout pregnancy,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS, which funds a broad portfolio of autism and neurodevelopmental-related research. “This has important implications for understanding how the environment and our genes interact to cause autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”

The study capitalized on a unique national birth cohort known as the Finnish Maternity Cohort (FMC), which contains an archive of samples collected from pregnant women in Finland, where a component of whole blood, referred to as serum, is systematically collected during the early part of pregnancy. The FMC consists of 1.6 million specimens from about 810,000 women, archived in a single, centralized biorepository. Finland also maintains diagnoses of virtually all childhood autism cases from national registries of both hospital admissions and outpatient treatment.

From this large national sample, the researchers analyzed CRP in archived maternal serum corresponding to 677 childhood autism cases and an equal number of matched controls. The findings were not explained by maternal age, paternal age, gender, previous births, socioeconomic status, preterm birth, or birth weight. The work was conducted in collaboration with investigators in Finland, including the University of Turku and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Oulu and Helsinki.

“Studying autism can be challenging, because symptoms may not be apparent in children until certain brain functions, such as language, come on line,” said Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Cellular, Organ, and Systems Pathobiology Branch and program lead for the Institute’s extramural portfolio of autism research. “This study is remarkable, because it uses biomarker data to give us a glimpse back to a critical time in early pregnancy.”

This work is expected to stimulate further research on autism, which is complex and challenging to identify causes. Future studies may help define how infections, other inflammatory insults, and the body’s immune response interact with genes to elevate the risk for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Preventative approaches addressing environmental causes of autism may also benefit from additional research.

The study was funded primarily by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from NIEHS, with additional support from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Reference: Brown AS, Sourander A, Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki S, McKeague IW, Sundvall J, Surcel HM. 2013. Elevated maternal C-reactive protein and autism in a national birth cohort. Molecular Psychiatry; doi:10.1038/mp.2012.197.

NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists ( to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®

Ed Kang, NIEHS | Newswise
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht ARTORG and Inselspital develop artificial pancreas
26.11.2015 | Universitätsspital Bern

nachricht Laboratory study: Scientists from Cologne explore a new approach to prevent newborn epilepsies
24.11.2015 | Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE)

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>