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Mol Psychiatry. 2010 Jul;15(7):676-80. doi: 10.1038/mp.2009.143.

The Autism Birth Cohort: a paradigm for gene-environment-timing research.

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Division of Epidemiology, The Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.


The reported prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased by 5- to 10-fold over the past 20 years. Whether ASDs are truly more frequent is controversial; nonetheless, the burden is profound in human and economic terms. Although autism is among the most heritable of mental disorders, its pathogenesis remains obscure. Environmental factors are proposed; however, none is implicated. Furthermore, there are no biomarkers to screen for ASD or risk of ASD. The Autism Birth Cohort (ABC) was initiated to analyze gene x environment x timing interactions and enable early diagnosis. It uses a large, unselected birth cohort in which cases are prospectively ascertained through population screening. Samples collected serially through pregnancy and childhood include parental blood, maternal urine, cord blood, milk teeth and rectal swabs. More than 107,000 children are continuously screened through questionnaires, referral, and a national registry. Cases are compared with a control group from the same cohort in a 'nested case-control' design. Early screening and diagnostic assessments and re-assessments are designed to provide a rich view of longitudinal trajectory. Genetic, proteomic, immunologic, metagenomic and microbiological tools will be used to exploit unique biological samples. The ABC is a paradigm for analyzing the role of genetic and environmental factors in complex disorders.

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