Maternal rheumatoid arthritis and risk of autism in the offspring

Weiyao Yin, Mattias Norrbäck, Stephen Z. Levine, Natalia Rivera, Joseph D. Buxbaum, Hailin Zhu, Benjamin Yip, Abraham Reichenberg, Johan Askling, Sven Sandin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Maternal Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is suggested to increase the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the offspring, mainly through inflammation/autoimmunity, but the association is unclear. A prospective population-based cohort study was implemented to examine the association between maternal RA and offspring ASD. Methods We included all children born alive in Sweden from 1995 to 2015, followed up through 2017. Diagnoses of ASD and RA were clinically ascertained from National Patient Register. We quantified the association by hazard ratios (HR) and two-sided 95% confidence intervals (CI), from Cox regression after detailed adjustment for potential confounders. We examined RA serostatus, etiological subgroups and the timing of exposure. To closer examine the underlying mechanism for the association, we included a negative control group for RA, arthralgia, with similar symptomology as RA but free from inflammation/autoimmunity. Results Of 3629 children born to mothers with RA, 70 (1.94%) were diagnosed with ASD, compared to 28 892 (1.92%) of 1 503 908 children born to mothers without RA. Maternal RA before delivery was associated with an increased risk of offspring ASD (HR = 1.43, 95% CI 1.11-1.84), especially for seronegative RA (HR = 1.61, 95% CI 1.12-2.30). No similar association was observed for paternal RA, maternal sisters with RA, or RA diagnosed after delivery. Maternal arthralgia displayed as high risks for offspring ASD as did maternal RA (HR = 1.41, 95% CI 1.24-1.60). Conclusions In Sweden, maternal RA before delivery was associated with an increased risk of offspring ASD. The comparable association between maternal arthralgia and ASD risk suggests other pathways of risk than autoimmunity/inflammation, acting jointly or independently of RA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7300-7308
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - 24 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Autism
  • autoimmune
  • cohort
  • epidemiology
  • joint pain
  • prenatal risk
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • seronegative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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