The U.C. Davis MIND Institute has an ongoing study to explore autism risk factors due to both genetic and environmental influences: the CHARGE study. The CHARGE study website describes itself as:
CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) was launched in 2003 as a study of 1,000 to 2,000 children with differing patterns of development. The goal is to better understand the causes and contributing factors for autism or developmental delay. Three groups of children are being enrolled in the CHARGE study: children with autism, children with developmental delay who do not have autism and children from the general population. All of them are evaluated for a broad array of exposures and susceptibilities.
A paper from this study was just released. In it, they claim that maternal proximity to freeways might be a risk factor for autism:
Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE study.
Volk HE, Hertz-Picciotto I, Delwiche L, Lurmann F, McConnell R.
Background: Little is known about environmental causes and contributing factors for autism. Basic science and epidemiological research suggest that oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in disease development. Traffic-related air pollution, a common exposure with established effects on these pathways, contains substances found to have adverse prenatal effects. Objectives: To examine the association between autism and residence proximity, during pregnancy and near the time of delivery, to freeways and major roadways as a surrogate for air pollution exposure. Methods: Data were from 304 autism cases and 259 typically developing controls enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The mother’s address recorded on the birth certificate and trimester specific addresses derived from a residential history obtained by questionnaire were geo-coded and measures of distance to freeways and major roads were calculated using ArcGIS software. Logistic regression models compared residential proximity to freeways and major roads for autism cases and typically developing controls. Results: Adjusting for sociodemographic factors and maternal smoking, maternal residence at the time of delivery was more likely be near a freeway (?309 meters) for cases, as compared to controls (odds ratio (OR), 1.86, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-3.45). Autism was also associated with residential proximity to a freeway during the third trimester (OR, 2.22, CI, 1.16-4.42). After adjustment for socio-economic and demographic characteristics, these associations were unchanged. Living near other major roads at birth was not associated with autism. Conclusions: Living near a freeway was associated with autism. Examination of associations with measured air pollutants is needed.
Note: Pubmed lists the affiliation as the University of Southern California. I don’t know if any of these authors are from USC, but I know that CHARGE and Dr. Hertz-Picciotto are with the U.C. Davis MIND Institute.
It is an interesting idea and it will be interesting to see if this result holds up in studies with larger groups.