Serotonin, pregnancy and increased autism prevalence: is there a link?

Med Hypotheses. 2010 May;74(5):880-3. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.11.015. Epub 2009 Dec 16.


The prevalence of autism, a neurodevelopmental condition resulting from genetic and environmental causes, has increased dramatically during the last decade. Among the potential environmental factors, hyperserotonemia during pregnancy and its effect on brain development could be playing a role in this prevalence raise. In the rodent model developed by Whitaker-Azmitia and colleagues, hyperserotonemia during fetal development results in a dysfunction of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis, affecting the amygdala as well as pro-social hormone oxytocin regulation. Dysfunction of the amygdala and abnormal oxytocin levels may underlie many clinical features of ASD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are the most widely used class of antidepressants drugs, and they are not contraindicated during pregnancy. In this paper, we hypothesize that increased serotonemia during pregnancy, including due to SSRI intake, could be one of the causes of the raising prevalence in autism. If our hypothesis is confirmed, it will not only shed light on one of the possible reason for autism prevalence, but also offer new preventive and treatment options.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / embryology
  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Autistic Disorder / blood
  • Autistic Disorder / drug therapy
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Serotonin / blood*


  • Serotonin
  • Oxytocin