Premature Babies at Risk for Autism: Study

Premature Babies at Risk for Autism: Study

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 1 Jan 2016 - 18:37


Preterm infants face an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to a new study.  Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by diminished social interaction, communication and repetitive behavior.

The study indicates that environmental factors can result in autism. Babies who are prematurely born more than 13 weeks are at an increased risk of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), learning problems and brain damage. This may happen due to exposure to many stress factors during the development of brain, which is the most critical period.  

For the study, researchers from Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden examined more than 100 premature babies who were born at the start of the third trimester (prior to 27th week). They used MRI to study the development of babies' brains during the neonate period and later when they turned 6 years, their autistic characteristics were again checked.

Study findings: The study showed that about 30% of the extremely premature babies had developed ASD symptoms as compared with the mature babies (who are born full-term), where the rate is 1 percent, indicating that birth weight and complications can raise the autism risk. Moreover, the team also found that premature born children who developed ASD symptoms were more likely to undergo a surgery during the first 28 days of life (neonatal period).

In the neonatal period, long before the children showed autism symptoms, differences could be noticed between the extremely premature babies who developed ASD symptoms and those who did not. Babies who later developed ASD had impaired growth in the areas of the brain that was associated with social contact, empathy and language acquisition, all the functions which are found defective in autistic children.

Ulrika Ådén, a  researcher at the Department of Women's and Children's Health at Karolinska Institute said, "Our study shows that environmental factors can also cause autism. The brain grows best in the womb, and if the developmental environment changes too early to a life in the atmosphere, it can disrupt the organization of cerebral networks. With new therapeutic regimes to stimulate the development of such babies to avoid stress, maybe we can reduce the risk of their developing ASD." 


Reference:Poor brain growth in extremely preterm neonates long before the onset of autism spectrum disorder symptoms, Nelly Padilla et al., Cerebral Cortex, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv300, published online 21 December 2015, abstract.; Karolinska Institutet news release, accessed 22 December 2015 via EurkAlert.



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