Some experts believe that prolonged bouts of severe stress like death in a family, loosing job, fights, divorces can negatively impact a pregnancy, causing complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, and even sleep and behavioral disorders in young child. Research in the year 2010 (ref.4) suggested that offspring of mothers who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy are more likely to have problems in neurobehavioral development. The preliminary evidences suggested that prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) is a risk factor for both autism and attention, deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Moreover, stress during pregnancy has been linked to several conditions, including some instances of autism spectrum disorder. Now, (ref 1,2,3) researchers have observed a variant of a stress-sensitive gene and exposure to stress during pregnancy among two groups of mothers of children with autism. The finding could be a step toward helping identify women who have greater risks for having children with autism when exposed to stressors during pregnancy.
Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine have observed a variant of a stress-sensitive gene and exposure to stress during pregnancy among two groups of mothers of children with autism. The study, “Maternal Serotonin Transporter Genotype Affects Risk for ASD with Exposure to Prenatal Stress,” recently was published by Autism Research, the journal of the International Society for Autism Research.
“Autism was thought to be largely a genetic disorder, but previous research has shown that environmental influences such as stress can play an important role in the development of the condition, though this was an observational study and future confirmation of this finding is needed, it’s possible we could, one day, identify women who may be at a greater risk of having a child with autism when exposed to stress,” said David Beversdorf, M.D., associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at the University of Missouri and the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and senior author of the study. The researchers studied two separate groups of mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder — a group of families at MU and a group of families at Queen’s University. The mothers surveyed the stress during their pregnancy, such as loss of a job, moving or divorce. The mothers’ blood was tested for a variation of the stress-sensitive gene known as 5-HTTLPR, which regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin in the nervous system. When a variation of the gene is present, the availability of serotonin is altered, causing an increased reaction to stress.
In both groups, mothers of children with autism who have the variation of the stress-sensitive gene reported experiencing more stress during the end of the second and the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy, compared to mothers who did not carry the altered gene.
The researchers believe the finding could be a step toward helping identify women who have greater risks for having children with autism when exposed to stressors during a specific time window during pregnancy.