Epidemiologic studies of exposure to prenatal infection and risk of schizophrenia and autism

Dev Neurobiol. 2012 Oct;72(10):1272-6. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22024. Epub 2012 Aug 23.


In this review, we provide a synopsis of work on the epidemiologic evidence for prenatal infection in the etiology of schizophrenia and autism. In birth cohort studies conducted by our group and others, in utero exposure to infectious agents, prospectively obtained after biomarker assays of archived maternal sera and by obstetric records was related to an increased risk of schizophrenia. Thus far, it has been demonstrated that prenatal exposure to influenza, increased toxoplasma antibody, genital-reproductive infections, rubella, and other pathogens are associated with schizophrenia. Anomalies of the immune system, including enhanced maternal cytokine levels, are also related to schizophrenia. Some evidence also suggests that maternal infection and immune dysfunction may be associated with autism. Although replication is required, these findings suggest that public health interventions targeting infectious exposures have the potential for preventing cases of schizophrenia and autism. Moreover, this work has stimulated translational research on the neurobiological and genetic determinants of these conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*