Recent study findings, from a large cohort study in Norway, identified molecular markers of gestational inflammation that were linked to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is estimated to affect 1 in 160 people globally, according to the WHO, and the condition is 4.2 times more common in boys than girls. GlobalData epidemiologists forecast there will be nearly six million diagnosed prevalent cases of ASD in boys and girls age 19 years and under in the sixteen major pharmaceutical markets (16MM: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and South Korea) by the end of 2022, which is in line with the upward trend seen in previous forecasting years.

The term ASD encompasses a diverse range of neurodevelopmental disorders previously diagnosed as separate conditions, which are autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. The degree to which ASD affects an individual’s ability to function in everyday life varies greatly depending on the severity of ASD symptoms, such as difficulties with social interaction and communication.

A study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, published in Molecular Psychiatry, identified molecular markers of gestational inflammation linked to increased risk of ASD. Maternal mid-gestational (MMG) and child cord blood (CB) plasma samples were taken during pregnancy and at birth, respectively, and compared between mothers whose children were later diagnosed with ASD, and those whose children were not. Levels of 60 cytokines and growth factors from the samples were analysed. Researchers found that specific groupings of molecular markers of inflammation were significantly higher in the ASD groups; however, the groupings differed in boys and girls. Molecular markers during pregnancy were slightly more predictive of ASD risk than molecular markers at birth. Nonetheless, this valuable insight gives way to the possibility of future screening for ASD.

This new research aligns with previous studies that suggested fetal exposure to inflammation, triggered by events such as maternal fever and influenza, increases the risk of ASD. This study indicates at least one period of gestation where the fetus is vulnerable to central nervous system change caused by maternal inflammation.

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