A study of nearly 1,000 mother-child pairs by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, otherwise known as SSRIs -- which are frequently prescribed for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders -- was associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delays in boys.
The study, which was published in the online version of the journal Pediatrics, examined data from large samples of ASD and delayed development diagnoses by trained clinicians using validated standard instruments, Science Daily reported.
Researchers included 966 mother-child pairs from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study, which is a population-based control study originating at the University of California-Davis' MIND Institute.
Scientists and researchers broke the data into three groups: Those diagnosed with ASD, those with developmental delays and those with prototypical development. Children ranged in ages from two to five years old.
Three times as likely in boys
A majority of the children studied were boys -- 82.5 percent in the ASD group were boys, 65.6 percent in the developmentally delayed group were boys, and 85.6 percent in the typical development group were boys. And while the study did include girls, the substantially higher findings in boys suggest that that there is a possible gender difference in the effect of prenatal SSRI exposure.
"We found prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly 3 times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester," said Li-Ching Lee, Ph.D., Sc.M., a psychiatric epidemiologist in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology. "SSRI was also elevated among boys with DD, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester."
Analysis of the data was completed by Rebecca Harrington, Ph.D, M.P.H., in conjunction with her doctoral dissertation and the Bloomberg school; Dr. Lee was an advisor to her project.
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