Researchers have found more evidence that inflammation during early pregnancy increases autism risk. The new study found high autism rates among children born to mothers with elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). High CRP is an established marker of body-wide inflammation.
“Elevated CRP is a signal that the body is undergoing a response to inflammation from, for example, a viral or bacterial infection,” says study leader Alan Brown, M.D. “The higher the level of CRP in the mother, the greater the risk of autism in the child.”
The analysis found that autism risk increased by 43 percent among children of mothers with CRP in the top 20th percentile. This means that their CRP levels were higher than 80 percent of those tested. Autism risk increased by 80 percent among children of mothers with CRP in the top 10th percentile (higher than 90 percent of those tested).
The findings add to mounting evidence that an overactive immune response can alter brain development during pregnancy. However, Dr. Brown emphasizes that the vast majority of mothers with increased CRP levels will not have children with autism.