SSRI Antidepressants Cause Autism Traits in Study RatsOct 25, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
Another study has found a possible link between autism and pre-natal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and involved rats, found that those exposed to the SSRI antidepressant, Celexa, were more likely to exhibit traits of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The animals in the study were given Celexa after birth, and at key stages of brain development. The rats were administered Celexa following birth because they are earlier stage of brain development compared to humans (equivalent to the end of the sixth month of fetal development in humans).
Among other things, the rats treated with Celexa showed abnormal responses to changes in their environment, were uninterested in play when young and displayed poor social behaviors as adults. In humans, such traits are associated with ASD.
The study also found that autism-like behaviors occurred more often in the treated male rats than in treated females. Similarly, ASD is diagnosed more often in males.
As the use of SSRI antidepressants has increased among pregnant women, so has the incidence of autism and ASD. The number of pregnant women taking SSRIs has grown from about .5 percent in 1985 when the first one came on the market to nearly 10 percent today. At the same time, autism has also become more prevalent. 1996, the rate of incidence was less than 1 in 1,000 births and by 2007 it reached about 1 in 200.
"The diagnosis has widened with the awareness that it's a spectrum disorder that encompasses a whole range of communication problems, but that doesn't account for all the increase by any means," Dr. Ian Paul, University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMCC) professor of psychiatry and human behavior, said in a press release detailing the new study's findings.
The latest researched comes on the heels of an epidemiologic study in humans, published in July in the Archives of General Psychiatry. That investigation found that children of mothers who took SSRIs during the year prior to giving birth ran twice the normal risk of developing autism.