Prenatal and Neonatal Biological Markers for Autism

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Project Background:
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are highly inheritable and the reported numbers have increased substantially in recent decades. This suggests that environmental factors may interact with genetics to cause ASDs. While genetic causes can be identified in 10% of cases, for most, there is no known cause, no biological marker, and no pharmacological treatment for core symptoms.

Project Focus:
This research project will provide a genetic focus for the Early Markers for Autism (EMA) study, which is an ongoing investigation into the immunologic and environmental markers for ASDs in prenatal and newborn blood samples. The EMA Study is the first large, population-based study of ASD to utilize archived prenatal and newborn specimens from mother-baby pairs to investigate early biologic markers of susceptibility and exposure during critical stages of fetal brain development.

This research will focus on a largely unexplored hypothesis that genetic maternal risk factors influence neurodevelopment in utero. The genetic data that will be collected in this study will be accompanied by data on maternal environmental exposures and immune status during pregnancy. This data will test the hypotheses that address maternal genetic impact during critical periods of fetal neurodevelopment. This kind of data is entirely absent from other genetic ASD studies to date.