Effects of mothers' autoimmune disease during pregnancy on learning disabilities and hand preference in their children

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003 Apr;157(4):397-402. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.157.4.397.


Objectives: To determine whether children (and particularly sons) of women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) during pregnancy are more likely to have learning disabilities (LD) and be non-right-handed, and if maternal disease variables (ie, presence of maternal antibodies, disease activity level, and use of corticosteroids) predict the prevalence of LD in offspring.

Design: Case-controlled study with subjects matched by age and sex.

Participants: We studied 58 children whose mothers had SLE during pregnancy and 58 children of healthy mothers. Measures Data collected included maternal disease variables in women with SLE during their pregnancies. All children took a standardized intelligence test (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-III) and completed a modified version of the Edinburgh Hand Preference Questionnaire. They also took standardized tests of reading, arithmetic, and writing achievement. Learning disability was defined as having an academic achievement score of at least 1.5 SDs below the Full-Scale IQ.

Results: Sons of women with SLE were significantly more likely to have LD than daughters of women with SLE or children of either sex in the control group. Maternal SLE was not associated with non-right-handedness in sons or daughters. The presence of anti-Ro/La antibodies and disease activity (flare) in mothers during pregnancy were significantly related to higher prevalence of LD in offspring.

Conclusions: Autoimmune disease in women during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for LD in their sons. Maternal antibodies, particularly anti-Ro/La, likely affect the fetal brain of male offspring and result in later learning problems. These findings should promote greater awareness of the risk for LD in sons of women with autoimmune disease and the possible need for early educational intervention in those children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / immunology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology
  • Learning Disabilities / immunology
  • Logistic Models
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / immunology
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / immunology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • SS-A antibodies
  • SS-B antibodies