If you’ve been watching the news today you’ve probably heard something about the study out of UC Davis, released today, entitled “Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders”. The study looked at the link between obesity, diabetes and autism and found an association between metabolic conditions during pregnancy (diabetes, obesity and hypertension), and developmental delays. Please see what Dr. Bryan King, director of Seattle Children’s Autism Center, says are the take away messages:

First, the study provides additional support for a picture of cumulative risk for ASD. We know that there are a number of genetic risk factors that are emerging, with new sites of interest just reported again last week. These studies suggest that risk factors may be additive–each contributing to the total.

The second point is that for this environmental exposure (metabolic disturbance), the timing of the event highlights pregnancy as a time of vulnerability for us to be focusing on. In the past, because of the timing of onset of the behaviors that signal the development of autism, we have focused on the first year or two of life. This study and others that have examined brain structure and function in ASD are suggesting that the focus needs to shift to much earlier in development.

Third, this study suggests that some risks for ASD are non-specific. In this study, the risk was elevated both for ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Other environmental risks, for example, birth complications, prematurity, and others, are similarly non-specific. Researchers will definitely be wanting to focus on how the same environmental risk can lead to such different developmental outcomes as this may be an important window into how to prevent or treat ASD.

See our blog on association studies by Dr. Gary Stobbe of Seattle Children’s Autism Center.