Society for Endocrinology - a world-leading authority on hormones

Press

21 Mar 2018


Children born to mothers with low vitamin D levels may develop autism-like behaviours


Low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy and breast feeding may be related to an unusual pattern of brain development that can lead to differences in social behaviour of children in later life, according to a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology. Rats with vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and lactation produced offspring that displayed altered social behaviours in adulthood. Differences in social behaviours are a hallmark of numerous human conditions, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and these findings provide further evidence of the importance of maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy for brain development of offspring.

ASD is a lifelong condition that ranges in severity and impacts on how individuals interact and communicate with the world. Human studies have found that lower levels of maternal Vitamin D during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of ASD in children. However, the biological mechanisms underpinning this relationship remain unclear. 

To examine how maternal vitamin D levels may influence brain development, Dr Caitlin Wyrwoll and colleagues at the University of Western Australia, assessed alterations in markers of brain function and social behaviours of adult rats, born to mothers that were vitamin D deficient during pregnancy and lactation. They found that rats with vitamin D-deficient mothers displayed abnormal social behaviours, altered brain chemistry and impaired learning and memory.

Dr Caitlin Wyrwoll states, “Our work reinforces that vitamin D levels in early life influence brain development and can impact on how the brain functions in later life.”

Dr Wyrwoll comments, “We know that early life environment can be a powerful determinant of health outcomes in offspring and, although this is a rat study, these data indicate that vitamin D levels during pregnancy are important for brain development, and may point to a contributing factor in the development of neurodevelopmental conditions, such as ASD. However, further work is needed to establish whether these associations also apply to humans.”
The study “Vitamin D is crucial for maternal care and offspring social behavior in rats" (doi: 10.1530/JOE-18-0008), will be published in the Journal of Endocrinology on Wednesday 21 March 2018. 

The Journal of Endocrinology is published by Bioscientifica, an innovative and agile publisher. Bioscientifica collaborates with learned societies worldwide to develop new and existing quality products that meet the ever-changing needs of the biomedical community. Our publishing portfolio includes journals and online resources, including Journal of Molecular Endocrinology, Endocrine-Related Cancer, Endocrine Connections, Bone Abstracts and Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports. Bioscientifica is a wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of the Society for Endocrinology.

The Society for Endocrinology is a UK-based membership organisation representing a global community of scientists, clinicians and nurses who work with hormones. Together we aim to improve public health by advancing endocrine education and research, and engaging wider audiences with the science of hormones.

Contact the press office

Recent press releases

Endocrinology in the news