Professor Awarded Grant to Study Link Between ASD and Prenatal Exposure to Antidepressants

Thursday, October 8, 2015

by Sarah Panetta '16

SJU Assistant Professor of Psychology, Elizabeth A. Becker, Ph.D., received a $10,000 grant from the Tom and Mary Gallagher Foundation to support her research on the neuro-developmental mechanisms underlying autism.

In her research, Becker, a behavioral neuroendocrinologist, cites the findings from the article “Prenatal SSRI Use and Offspring with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Delay,” published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to illustrate the connection between maternal prenatal antidepressant use and developmental delays or disorders in children.

The research found that women who take antidepressants during pregnancy and lactation are three times more likely to have a child on the autism spectrum.  

“We believe that antidepressants — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) —may impair the oxytocin system in the offspring brain,” says Becker. “Oxytocin is a neuropeptide associated with social behavior and deficiencies are correlated with autism spectrum disorder.”

Becker says she and her group are designing a follow-up study to test for deficits in social behavior in offspring exposed to antidepressants in early development via lactation.  

Established in 1994, the Gallagher Foundation contributes to and assists charitable, scientific, literary and educational activities by nonprofit organizations. The foundation provides grants for research that will improve the quality and delivery of healthcare and disease research. Since 2004, the foundation has give particular attention to the extraordinary challenges faced by special needs children and their parents.


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