The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (7/11), suggested that use of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI, a class of antidepressant) during the first trimester of pregnancy was modestly associated with an increased risk of having a child with autism. While the risk of having a child with autism doubled when an SSRI was taken during the 12 months prior to delivery, the risk jumped to four times higher when the SSRI was taken during the first trimester.
"Although the number of children exposed prenatally to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in this population was low, results suggest that exposure, especially during the first trimester, may modestly increase the risk of ASD," researchers concluded. They did note, however, that the number of women in the study who took an SSRI and had a child with autism was low. They also said the autism could be caused by the depression itself, rather than the drug to treat the depression.
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The rat pups were given citalopram and compared with a group of rats not given the antidepressant. According to researchers, the rats who were exposed to the SSRI showed poor social behavior and abnormal responses to environmental changes than the control group, similar to behaviors displayed by human children with autism. Furthermore, the rat pups who were exposed to the SSRI showed abnormalities in the auditory cortex and other areas of the brain.
Researchers did note that more studies should be conducted on the link between SSRIs and autism, and more research must be done in humans before a link can be confirmed.