Autism in 2016: The need for answers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong and often devastating conditions that severely affect social functioning and self-sufficiency. The etiopathogenesis is presumably multifactorial, resulting from a very complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors. The dramatic increase in autism spectrum disorder prevalence observed during the last decades has led to placing more emphasis on the role of environmental factors in the etiopathogenesis. The objective of this narrative biomedical review was to summarize and discuss the results of the most recent and relevant studies about the environmental factors hypothetically involved in autism spectrum disorder etiopathogenesis. Sources: A search was performed in PubMed (United States National Library of Medicine) about the environmental factors hypothetically involved in the non-syndromic autism spectrum disorder etiopathogenesis, including: air pollutants, pesticides and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, electromagnetic pollution, vaccinations, and diet modifications. Summary of the findings: While the association between air pollutants, pesticides and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and risk for autism spectrum disorder is receiving increasing confirmation, the hypothesis of a real causal relation between them needs further data. The possible pathogenic mechanisms by which environmental factors can lead to autism spectrum disorder in genetically predisposed individuals were summarized, giving particular emphasis to the increasingly important role of epigenetics. Conclusions: Future research should investigate whether there is a significant difference in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among nations with high and low levels of the various types of pollution. A very important goal of the research concerning the interactions between genetic and environmental factors in autism spectrum disorder etiopathogenesis is the identification of vulnerable populations, also in view of proper prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-119
JournalJornal de Pediatria
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Air pollutants
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Environmental factors
  • Epidemiologia
  • Epidemiology
  • Epigenetics
  • Epigenética
  • Fatores ambientais
  • Neurobiologia
  • Neurobiology
  • Poluentes atmosféricos
  • Transtorno do espectro autista

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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