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Fetal brain growth and infant autistic traits.

Molecular Autism 2024 Februrary 29
BACKGROUND: Structural differences exist in the brains of autistic individuals. To date only a few studies have explored the relationship between fetal brain growth and later infant autistic traits, and some have used fetal head circumference (HC) as a proxy for brain development. These findings have been inconsistent. Here we investigate whether fetal subregional brain measurements correlate with autistic traits in toddlers.

METHODS: A total of 219 singleton pregnancies (104 males and 115 females) were recruited at the Rosie Hospital, Cambridge, UK. 2D ultrasound was performed at 12-, 20- and between 26 and 30 weeks of pregnancy, measuring head circumference (HC), ventricular atrium (VA) and transcerebellar diameter (TCD). A total of 179 infants were followed up at 18-20 months of age and completed the quantitative checklist for autism in toddlers (Q-CHAT) to measure autistic traits.

RESULTS: Q-CHAT scores at 18-20 months of age were positively associated with TCD size at 20 weeks and with HC at 28 weeks, in univariate analyses, and in multiple regression models which controlled for sex, maternal age and birth weight.

LIMITATIONS: Due to the nature and location of the study, ascertainment bias could also have contributed to the recruitment of volunteer mothers with a higher than typical range of autistic traits and/or with a significant interest in the neurodevelopment of their children.

CONCLUSION: Prenatal brain growth is associated with toddler autistic traits and this can be ascertained via ultrasound starting at 20 weeks gestation.

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