Prenatal exposure to migraine medication increases risk of autism spectrum disorders

A research study conducted at the Oregon State University and Wenzhou Medical University showed that exposure to a compound used to treat migraines and seizures causes symptoms related to autism. The researchers used zebrafish as a model to conduct a study on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their causes.

  • ASD consists of five related neurodevelopmental diseases that are defined by extreme impairments in social interactions, inability to have proper modes of verbal and nonverbal communications, repetitive behavioral patterns, and weird sensitivity to sensory stimulation.
  • The causes of autism are not known, but it has been linked with both genetic and environmental components, including prenatal exposure to two drugs: thalidomide, a sedative linked to severe birth defects, and valproic acid, which is used to prevent migraine headaches.
  • Autism diagnoses have been rising since the 1990s. About one child in 68, will be classified as having autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • ASD affects all ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial groups but is around 4.5 times more common among boys (one in 42) than girls (one in 189).
  • Zebrafish have an uncanny likeness to humans at the genetic, cellular, and molecular levels; this means that the implications of findings associated with zebrafish are extremely relevant to humans.
  • Studies on embryonic zebrafish are particularly important, for embryonic zebrafish develop quickly, are transparent, and can easily thrive even in small amounts of water.
  • The research’s findings concluded that treating zebrafish embryos with valproic acid starting eight hours after fertilization results in a significant rise in the ASD macrocephalic phenotype, that is, an enlarged head.
  • It also caused hyperactivity in embryos and larvae.

The findings were published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.


Journal Reference:

Chen J, Lei L, Tian L, Hou F, Roper C, Ge X, Zhao Y, Chen Y, Dong Q, Tanguay RL, et al. DEVELOPMENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL ALTERATIONS IN ZEBRAFISH EMBRYONICALLY EXPOSED TO VALPROIC ACID (VPA): AN AQUATIC MODEL FOR AUTISM. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 2018;66:8–16. DOI 10.1016/

comments powered by Disqus