A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Spring, 2017 | Number 2, Volume 31

Study offers more support for protective effects of vitamin D

Additional evidence that adequate maternal vitamin D may protect offspring from autism comes from a study by Australian researchers. 

Stephanie Vuillermot and colleagues exposed pregnant mice to a viral mimic in order to replicate a viral infection and trigger maternal immune activation (a risk factor for ASD). In addition, they gave some of the pregnant mice injections of vitamin D. 

The researchers found that the offspring of the mice injected with the viral mimic but not vitamin D during the first trimester exhibited autistic-like deficits. However, they say that co-administration of vitamin D “blocked the emergence of the ASD-relevant deficits in social interaction, stereotyped behavior, and emotional learning and memory.” 

Interestingly, vitamin D did not affect maternal or fetal levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The researchers say this suggests that “the ASD-preventive potential of this hormone at least in this maternal immune activation model is not primarily related to its anti-inflammatory effects.” 

Study coauthor Wei Luan notes that the active hormonal form of vitamin D used in this study cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus. Luan says the team will now try to determine “how much cholecalciferol—the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women—is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream.” 

The new research is consistent with a previous study (see ARRI Vol. 30, No. 4) by researchers at the same institute. In that study, A. A. E. Vinkhuyzen and colleagues analyzed data on the vitamin D status of 4,229 children (measured by cord blood levels at delivery) and their mothers (measured at midgestation). They also evaluated the children’s scores on an abridged version of the parent-administered Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) when the children were approximately six years of age. The researchers reported, “In all analyses, 25OHD deficiency or lower 25OHD concentrations were associated with higher (more impaired) SRS scores.” 


“Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes in a mouse model of maternal immune activation,” Stephanie Vuillermot, Wei Luan, Urs Meyer, and Darryl Eyles, Molecular Autism, March 2017 (open access). Address: Darryl Eyles, Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, Brisbane 4072, Queensland, Australia, [email protected]


“Link between vitamin D treatment and autism prevention,” news release, University of Queensland, March 16, 2017. 


“Gestational vitamin D deficiency and autismrelated traits: the Generation R Study,” A. A. E. Vinkhuyzen, D. W. Eyles, T. H. J. Burne, L. M. E. Blanken, C. J. Kruithof, F. Verhulst, V. W. Jaddoe, H. Tiemeier, and J. J. McGrath, Molecular Psychiatry, November 29, 2016 (epub prior to print publication). Address: J. J. McGrath, Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia, [email protected] du.au.