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A University of Southern California study shows a high correlation between a mother’s exposure during pregnancy and a child’s exposure in the first year of life to traffic-related air pollutants and the possibility that the children will have autism or autism spectrum disorders.

Heather E Volk, PhD, MPH and colleagues compared the effects of traffic pollutants between 279 children with autism and a control group of 245 children with normal development.

All children were enrolled in California’s Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study.

Researchers used mothers’ addresses to estimate the level of exposure for each pregnancy trimester and for each child’s first year of life.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System data estimated the level of traffic-related pollution in the different areas.

Children living at addresses with the highest levels of modeled traffic-related pollution were three times more likely to have autism than were children living in homes with the lowest exposure.

Researchers concluded that “Research on the effects of exposure to pollutants and their interaction with susceptibility factors may lead to the identification of the biologic pathways that are activated in autism and to improved prevention and therapeutic strategies.  Although additional research to replicate these findings is needed, the public health implications of these findings are large because air pollution exposure is common and may have lasting neurological effects.”

Sources:   examiner, November 28, 2012    Eureka  Alert, November 26, 2012     Study published in Archives of General Psychiatry, a JAMA publication    Study funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and by matching funds and pilot grant program from MIND Institute


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