Neurotransmitter-affecting medicines used in pregnancy not linked to autism risk in offspring

The authors of a study into the use of medicines that affect neurotransmitters in pregnant women have found no link to autism risk in offspring.

Pregnant woman taking a tablet

Use of medicines targeting neurotransmitter systems during pregnancy is unlikely to influence estimates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring, the authors of a study published in JAMA Psychiatry (online, 31 October 2018) have concluded.[1]

The researchers used data from the Israeli healthcare system from 1,405 individuals with ASD and 94,844 controls without an ASD diagnosis, including siblings of those with an ASD diagnosis, who were born between January 1997 and December 2007. They were followed up for a mean of 11.6 years.

After adjusting for co-variates, just 5 out of 34 medicine types were significantly associated with ASD diagnosis, including 4 that were associated with lower rates of ASD. The researchers also found evidence of confounding effects of the number of health issues reported by the mother — from one year before pregnancy to time of birth — on the association between offspring exposure to medication and ASD.

“Our study sheds new light on the role of maternal general health and its potentially confounding effects in pharmacoepidemiologic studies on ASD,” the researchers concluded.


[1] Janecka M, Kodesh A, Levine S et al. Association of autism spectrum disorder with prenatal exposure to medication affecting neurotransmitter systems. JAMA Psychiatry 2018;75(12):1217–1224. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.2728

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, January 2019, Vol 11, No 1;11(1):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205874

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