Vitamin D Deficiency in Pregnancy is Linked to Autism
Time to read: 5 minutes
Autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterised by deficits in social interactions including verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Researchers believe that these ASD-like behaviours are a result of a complex interplay between genetic defects and environmental risk factors causing abnormal neurodevelopment during maturation in utero and in early childhood.
Neuroimaging studies have shown that there is micro- and macro-structural neural disorganisation particularly in areas involved in socioemotional processing. Genetic studies have identified mutations in well-conserved pathways that are important for functional network connectivity in these areas. In-depth gene analysis studies also appear show that pathways associated with neuroplasticity and synaptogenesis have been interfered with.
Environmental factors associated with ASD also significantly contribute to autism-related traits. These include epigenetic changes (heritable changes not caused by alteration in the genetic code), immunological processes (maternal infections), obstetric complications (e.g. hypoxia) and toxin-related factors (e.g. pesticides, medications). Other possible ASD-related environmental risk factors include smoking, alcohol, and nutrient deficiencies in the mother during fetal development.
More recently, scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute showed that a deficiency in vitamin D during pregnancy is also mechanistically associated with the development of ASD. Previous studies have shown evidence of vitamin D deficiency playing a role in autism as well as other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Vinkhuyzen AE, et al. Gestational vitamin D deficiency and autism-related traits: the Generation R Study. Molecular Psychiatry. 2016