CREAL. Centre for research in environmental epidemiology


Home > News

Back to newsNews

Prenatal air pollution exposure is not associated with childhood autistic traits

Study published in Environmental Health Perspectives

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Prenatal air pollution exposure is not associated with childhood autistic traits

This study, led by CREAL, an ISGlobal allied center, and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, aims to assess whether prenatal air pollution exposure including NO2 and PM is associated with autistic traits in childhood in four European population-based birth/child cohort studies. Autistic traits are defined as subclinical deficits in socialization, communication, and repetitive behaviors that do not meet formal criteria for an autism spectrum disorders (ASD) diagnosis.

The researchers found that prenatal exposure to NO2 and PM was not associated with autistic traits in children from four to ten years of age in four European population-based birth/child cohort studies.

Autism and pollution

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are lifelong developmental disabilities characterized by social interaction impairment, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors. The prevalence of ASD has increased in the past 20 years, reaching 1 in 86 children in Europe in 2007. Despite advances in genetic research, the causes of ASD remain unclear. Brain toxicity of urban air pollutants during development is well documented in animals and possible biological pathways have been suggested. Previously, several case-control studies in the USA showed that ASD was associated with prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollutants.

No association between prenatal air pollution exposure and autistic traits

A total of more than 8,000 children were included in this study, that takes part of the ESCAPE project led by Jordi Sunyer, CREAL researcher. Reserchers found that prenatal air pollution exposure was not associated with autistic traits.

This was a collaborative study of four European population-based birth and child cohorts: CATSS (Sweden), GENERATION R (The Netherlands), GASPII (Italy), and INMA (Spain). Nitrogen oxides (NO2, NOx) and particulate matter (PM) were estimated at birth addresses by land-use regression models based on monitoring campaigns performed between 2008 and 2011. “Levels were extrapolated back in time to exact pregnancy periods. Autistic traits were assessed between four and ten years of age using quantitative assessments”, explains Mònica Guxens, CREAL researcher and main author of this study.


Mònica Guxens et al.  Air Pollution Exposure during Pregnancy and Childhood Autistic Traits in Four European Population-Based Cohort Studies. The ESCAPE Project. Environmental Health Perspectives. DOI:10.1289/ehp.1408483. June 12th

Picture (Source): Flickr (TipsTimesAdmin) (CC)



Communications Manager:
Raül Toran

(+34) 93 214 73 33
(+34) 696 912 841


ISGlobal - Campus Mar · Doctor Aiguader, 88 · E-08003 Barcelona · Tel +34 93 214 73 00 · Fax +34 93 214 73 02 · e-mail: RSS


Scientific context: