A relatively high number of abnormal folds and cell growths in the placenta could be a strong indicator of an infant’s risk for developing autism, according to new research at the Yale School of Medicine.
The research team examined 117 placentas from infants of at-risk families — those with one or more previous children with autism. These families were participating in a study called Markers of Autism Risk in Babies – Learning Early Signs. Then the researchers compared these at-risk placentas to 100 control placentas.
The at-risk placentas had as many as 15 trophoblast inclusions, while none of the control placentas had more than two trophoblast inclusions.
According to the researchers, a placenta with four or more trophoblast inclusions conservatively predicted a 96.7 percent probability of the infant being at risk for autism.
Currently, one out of 50 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, this diagnosis is typically made when these children are 3 to 4 years of age or older. By then the best opportunities for intervention have been lost because the brain is most responsive to treatment in the first year of life.
These findings will allow for earlier diagnosis and treatment for the developmental disorder. So far, the best early marker of autism risk has been family history. Parents who have a child with autism are nine times more likely to have another child with autism.
“Regrettably, couples without known genetic susceptibility must rely on identification of early signs or indicators that may not overtly manifest until the child’s second or third year of life,” said senior author Dr. Harvey Kliman, research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine.
“I hope that diagnosing the risk of developing autism by examining the placenta at birth will become routine, and that the children who are shown to have increased numbers of trophoblast inclusions will have early interventions and an improved quality of life as a result of this test,” Kliman added.
The findings are reported online in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Source: Biological Psychiatry