California Department of Public Health logo: three likenesses of people colored blue, green, and orange  
Last Edited: 4/23/2009

Identifying Environmental Contributions to Autism: Provocative Clues and False Leads
Written: 01/02/04

The potential role of environmental factors in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is an area of emerging interest within the public and scientific communities. The high degree of heritability of ASD suggests that environmental influences are likely to operate through their interaction with genetic susceptibility during vulnerable periods of development. Evaluation of the plausibility of specific neurotoxicants as etiological agents in ASD should be guided by toxicological principles, including dose-effect dependency and pharmacokinetic parameters. Clinical and epidemiological investigations require the use of sufficiently powered study designs with appropriate control groups and unbiased case ascertainment and exposure assessment. Although much of the existing data that have been used to implicate environmental agents in ASD are limited by methodological shortcomings, a number of efforts are underway that will allow more rigorous evaluation of the role of environmental exposures in the etiology and/or phenotypic expression of the disorder. Surveillance systems are now in place that will provide reliable prevalence estimates going forward in time. Anticipated discoveries in genetics, brain pathology, and the molecular/cellular basis of functional impairment in ASD are likely to provide new opportunities to explore environmental aspects of this disorder. Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Division of Extramural Research and Training, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, PO Box 1123, MD EC-23, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.




Suggested Citation

  • Publication Types: Review MeSH Terms: Autistic Disorder/epidemiology Autistic Disorder/etiology* Autistic Disorder/physiopathology Autoantibodies/immunology Brain/drug effects Brain/embryology Environmental Exposure/adverse effects* Female Hazardous Substances/adverse effects Humans Pregnancy Pregnancy Complications Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects Serotonin/physiology Substances: Autoantibodies Hazardous Substances Serotonin