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Epidemiology. 2019 Jan;30(1):52-60. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000928.

Relation Between Infant Microbiota and Autism?: Results from a National Cohort Sibling Design Study.

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From the Department of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Nordsjaellands Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Hillerød, Denmark.
Section of Biostatistics, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Psychiatric Center Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Hvidovre Hospital, Hvidovre, Denmark.
Department of Obstetrics, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Clinical Microbiology, Hvidovre Hospital, Hvidovre, Denmark.



Hypotheses concerning adverse effects of changes in microbiota have received much recent attention, but unobserved confounding makes them difficult to test. We investigated whether surrogate markers for potential adverse microbiota change in infancy affected autism risk, addressing unobserved confounding using a sibling study design.


This is a population-based, prospective cohort study including all singleton live births in Denmark from 1997 to 2010. The exposure variables were cesarean delivery and antibiotic use in the first 2 years of life. The outcome was a subsequent autism diagnosis. We used the between- and within-sibling model and compared it with sibling-stratified Cox models and simpler standard Cox models that ignored sibship.


Of our study population including 671,606 children, who were followed for up to 15 years (7,341,133 person-years), 72% received antibiotics, 17.5% were delivered by cesarean, and 1.2% (8,267) developed autism. The standard Cox models predicted that both cesarean (compared with vaginal) delivery and antibiotics increased the risk of autism. In the sibling-stratified Cox model, only broader spectrum antibiotics were associated with increased risk of autism: hazard ratio (HR) = 1.16 (95% confidence interval = 1.01, 1.36). The between-within model estimated no exposure effects: intrapartum cesarean HR = 1.06 (0.89, 1.26); prelabor cesarean HR = 0.97 (0.83, 1.15); exclusively penicillin HR = 1.05 (0.93, 1.18); and broader spectrum antibiotics HR = 1.05 (0.95, 1.16).


The between-within model rendered more precise estimates than sibling-stratified Cox models, and we believe that it also provided more valid estimates. Results from these preferred models do not support a causal relation between antibiotic treatment during infancy, cesarean delivery, and autism. See video abstract at,

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