Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) evolves from an interplay between genetic and environmental factors during prenatal development. Since identifying maternal biomarkers associated with ASD risk in offspring during early pregnancy might result in new strategies for intervention, we investigated maternal metabolic biomarkers in relation to occurrence of ASD in offspring using both univariate logistic regression and multivariate network analysis.
Methods: Serum samples from 100 women with an offspring diagnosed with ASD and 100 matched control women with typically developing offspring were collected at week 14 of pregnancy. Concentrations of 62 metabolic biomarkers were determined, including amino acids, vitamins (A, B, D, E, and K), and biomarkers related to folate (vitamin B9) metabolism, lifestyle factors, as well as C-reactive protein (CRP), the kynurenine-tryptophan ratio (KTR), and neopterin as markers of inflammation and immune activation.
Results: We found weak evidence for a positive association between higher maternal serum concentrations of folate and increased occurrence of ASD (OR per 1 SD increase: 1.70, 95% CI 1.22-2.37, FDR adjusted P = 0.07). Multivariate network analysis confirmed expected internal biochemical relations between the biomarkers. Neither inflammation markers nor vitamin D3 levels, all hypothesized to be involved in ASD etiology, displayed associations with ASD occurrence in the offspring.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that high maternal serum folate status during early pregnancy may be associated with the occurrence of ASD in offspring. No inference about physiological mechanisms behind this observation can be made at the present time because blood folate levels may have complex relations with nutritional intake, the cellular folate status and status of other B-vitamins. Therefore, further investigations, which may clarify the potential role and mechanisms of maternal blood folate status in ASD risk and the interplay with other potential risk factors, in larger materials are warranted.
Keywords: Autism; Folate; Inflammation; One-carbon metabolism; Pregnancy; Vitamin A; Vitamin B; Vitamin D.
© The Author(s). 2020.
Conflict of interest statement
Competing interestsSven Bölte declares no conflict of interest related to this article. Bölte discloses that he has in the last 5 years acted as an author, consultant, or lecturer for Shire, Medice, Roche, Eli Lilly, Prima Psychiatry, GLGroup, System Analytic, Kompetento, Expo Medica, and Prophase. He receives royalties for text books and diagnostic tools from Huber/Hogrefe, Kohlhammer and UTB. Erik Domellöf is supported by a grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW 2015.0192). There are no other financial disclosures or conflicts of interest.
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