A growing body of evidence suggests that prenatal environment is important in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) etiology. In this study, we compare placental shape features in younger siblings of children with ASD, who themselves are at high ASD risk, to a sample of low risk peers. Digital photographs of the fetal placenta surface and of the sliced placental disk from 129 high ASD risk newborns and from 267 newborns in the National Children’s Study Vanguard pilot were analysed to extract comparable measures of placental chorionic surface shape, umbilical cord displacement and disk thickness. Placental thickness measures were moderately higher in siblings of ASD cases. The placentas of ASD-case siblings were also rounder and more regular in perimeter than general population placentas. After stratification by sex, these across-group differences persisted for both sexes but were more pronounced in females. No significant differences were observed in cord insertion measures. Variations in placental shape features are generally considered to reflect flexibility in placental growth in response to changes in intrauterine environment as the placenta establishes and matures. Reduced placental shape variability observed in high ASD risk siblings compared to low-risk controls may indicate restricted ability to compensate for intrauterine changes.
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