Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ph.D.
University of California, Davis
NIEHS Grants P01ES011269, R01ES015359
New results from the NIEHS-funded Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study show an association between prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and autism spectrum disorder as well as developmental delays in boys. SSRIs are frequently prescribed treatment for depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
The researchers examined 966 mother-child pairs participating in the CHARGE study and found that prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorder compared to typical development, with the greatest risk occurring if exposure took place during the first trimester. SSRI was also elevated among boys with developmental delays, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester.
The researchers acknowledge limitations of the study including the difficulty in isolating SSRI effects from those of their indications for use and the relatively small sample of children with developmental delays. They also note that because maternal depression also carries risks for the fetus, the benefits of prenatal SSRI use should be carefully weighed against potential risks.
Citation: Harrington RA, Lee LC, Crum RM, Zimmerman AW, Hertz-Picciotto I. 2014. Prenatal SSRI use and offspring with autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay. Pediatrics 133:5 e1241-e1248.