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Prenatal and neonatal peripheral blood mercury levels and autism spectrum disorders

Prenatal and early-life exposures to mercury have been hypothesized to be associated with increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This study investigated the association between ASDs and levels of total mercury measured in maternal serum from mid-pregnancy and infant blood shortly after birth. The study sample was drawn from the Early Markers for Autism (EMA) Study. Three groups of children who were born in Orange County, CA in 2000-2001 were identified: children with ASD (n=84), children with intellectual disability or developmental delay (DD) (n=49), and general population controls (GP) (n=159). Maternal serum specimens and newborn bloodspots were retrieved from the California Department of Public Health prenatal and newborn screening specimen archives. Blood mercury levels were measured in maternal serum samples using mass spectrometer and in infant bloodspots with a 213 nm laser. Maternal serum and infant blood mercury levels were significantly correlated among all study groups (all correlations >0.38, p<0.01). Adjusted logistic regression models showed no significant associations between ASD and log transformed mercury levels in maternal serum samples (ASD vs. GP: OR [95% CI]=0.96 [0.49-1.90]; ASD vs. DD: OR [95% CI]=2.56 [0.89-7.39]). Results for mercury levels in newborn blood samples were similar (ASD vs. GP: OR [95% CI]=1.18 [0.71-1.95]; ASD vs. DD: OR [95% CI]=1.96 [0.75-5.14]). Results indicate that levels of total mercury in serum collected from mothers during mid-pregnancy and from newborn bloodspots were not significantly associated with risk of ASD, though additional studies with greater sample size and covariate measurement are needed.

Authors: Yau VM; Green PG; Alaimo CP; Yoshida CK; Lutsky M; Windham GC; Delorenze G; Kharrazi M; Grether JK; Croen LA

Environ Res. 2014 Aug;133:294-303. Epub 2014-06-28.

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