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Placental morphology in association with autism-related traits in the EARLI study

In prior work we observed differences in morphology features in placentas from an autism-enriched cohort as compared to those from a general population sample. Here we sought to examine whether these differences associate with ASD-related outcomes in the child. Participants (n = 101) were drawn from the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI), a cohort following younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD-related outcomes, including the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) Early Learning Composite, and ASD diagnosis, were assessed at age 3. Crude and adjusted linear regression was used to examine associations between placental morphological features (parametrized continuously and in quartiles) and SRS and MSEL scores; comparisons by ASD case status were explored as secondary analyses due to the small number of cases (n = 20). In adjusted analyses, we observed a modest positive association between umbilical cord eccentricity, defined as the ratio of the maximum:minimum radius from the cord insertion point, and SRS scores (Beta = 1.68, 95%CI = 0.45, 2.9). Positive associations were also suggested between placental maximum thickness and cord centrality and SRS scores, though these were estimated with little precision. Associations between other placental morphological features and outcomes were not observed. Our analyses suggested a potential association between umbilical cord features and ASD-related traits, of interest as non-central cord insertion may reflect reduced placenta efficiency. Future studies with larger sample sizes are needed to further examine these and other placental features in association with ASD-related outcomes.

Authors: Zhong, Caichen; Croen, Lisa A; Lyall, Kristen; et al.

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022 Jun 28;22(1):525. Epub 2022-06-28.

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