Joint effects of prenatal air pollutant exposure and maternal folic acid supplementation on risk of autism spectrum disorder

Amanda J. Goodrich, Heather E. Volk, Daniel J. Tancredi, Rob McConnell, Fred W. Lurmann, Robin L. Hansen, Rebecca J. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Independent studies report that periconceptional folic acid (FA) may decrease the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while exposure to air pollution may increase ASD risk. We examined the joint effects of gestational FA and air pollution exposures in association with ASD. We studied 346 ASD cases and 260 typically developing controls from the CHARGE case-control study. Self-reported FA intake for each month of pregnancy was quantified. Estimates of exposure to near roadway air pollution (NRP) and criteria air pollutant measures were assigned based on maternal residential history. Among mothers with high FA intake (>800 μg) in the first pregnancy month, exposure to increasing levels of all air pollutants, except ozone, during the first trimester was associated with decreased ASD risk, while increased ASD risk was observed for the same pollutant among mothers with low FA intake (≤800 μg). This difference was statistically significant for NO2 (e.g., NO2 and low FA intake: OR = 1.53 (0.91, 2.56) vs NO2 and high FA intake: OR = 0.74 (0.46, 1.19), P-interaction = 0.04). Mothers exposed to higher levels (≥ median) of any air pollutant during the first trimester of pregnancy and who reported low FA intake were at a higher ASD risk compared to mothers exposed to lower levels of that air pollutant and who reported high first month FA intake. Joint effects showed significant (alpha < 0.10) departures from expected interaction for NRP and NO2. Our results suggest that periconceptional FA intake may reduce ASD risk in those with high prenatal air pollution exposure. Further study is needed to replicate these findings in larger sample sizes and to understand mechanisms of this potential relationship. Autism Res 2018, 11: 69–80.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-80
Number of pages12
JournalAutism Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • ASD
  • air pollution
  • autism
  • environmental exposure
  • folic acid
  • prenatal exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Joint effects of prenatal air pollutant exposure and maternal folic acid supplementation on risk of autism spectrum disorder'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this