Autism and measles-mumps-rubella vaccination: controversy laid to rest?

CNS Drugs. 2001;15(11):831-7. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200115110-00002.


It has been suggested that vaccination, particularly with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, may be related to the development of autism. The main evidence for a possible association is that the prevalence of autism has been increasing at the same time that infant vaccination coverage has increased, and that in some cases there is an apparent temporal association in which autistic characteristics are first noted shortly after vaccination. Although the prevalence of autism and similar disorders appears to have increased recently, it is not clear if this is an actual increase or the result of increased recognition and changes in diagnostic criteria. The apparent onset of autism in close proximity to vaccination may be a coincidental temporal association. The clinical evidence in support of an association derives from a series of 12 patients with inflammatory bowel conditions and regressive developmental disorders, mostly autism. The possibility that measles vaccine may cause autism through a persistent bowel infection has generated much interest, since it provides a possible biological mechanism. Epidemiological studies, however, have not found an association between MMR vaccination and autism. The epidemiological findings are consistent with current understanding of the pathogenesis of autism, which has a strong genetic component and in which the neurological defects probably occur early in embryonic development. It seems unlikely that a vaccination that is given after birth could cause autism. A minority of cases of autism may have onset after 1 year of age (regressive autism), but the single epidemiological study that included such cases did not find an association with MMR vaccination. Currently, the weight of the available epidemiological and related evidence does not support a causal association between MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine or vaccine constituent, and autism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine / adverse effects*


  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine