A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2021 | Number 1, Volume 35

Kids of “preemie parents” may have higher ASD risk

A new study points to parental premature birth as a possible risk factor for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children. 

In the study, Jingyuan Xiao and colleagues analyzed the medical registry records of approximately 400,000 parent-child pairs from Denmark. The researchers found that children of men and women who were born at less than 37 weeks or with a low birth weight had an elevated risk of ASD, and that children of parents born very preterm (less than 32 weeks) had a nearly two-fold increase in risk. Other multigenerational factors the researchers explored had only a minimal effect on the risk for ASD. 

Zeyan Liew, the study’s senior author, notes that there is increasing evidence that changes in gene activity in response to environmental stimuli can be inherited across generations without changing the underlying DNA sequences, a phenomenon known as epigenetic inheritance. He comments, “These adverse characteristics at birth may act as a proxy measure of possible heritable epigenetic modifications as a result of harmful prenatal exposures affecting early life growth, which could help explain the multigenerational transmission of [ASD] risk we observed.”


“Associations of parental birth characteristics with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk in their offspring: a population-based multigenerational cohort study in Denmark,” Jingyuan Xiao , Yu Gao,Yongfu Yu, Gunnar Toft,Yawei Zhang,Jiajun Luo, Yuntian Xia, Katarzyna Chawarska, Jørn Olsen,Jiong Li, and Zeyan Liew, International Journal of Epidemiology, January 7, 2021 (online ahead of print publication). Address: Zeyan Liew, Yale Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology, One Church Street, 6th Floor, New Haven, CT, 06510, [email protected]


“Preemie-born parents linked to children with autism,” news release, Matt Kristoffersen, Yale University, January 11, 2021.