According to a recent study, grandmothers who smoked in their younger years may be responsible for passing down the negative effects of smoking to their granddaughters. Researchers found that girls whose maternal grandmothers smoked during pregnancy were at an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.
A team of health care experts at the University of Bristol in the U.K. examined 14,500 children who were born in the 1990’s. Researchers found that girls whose maternal grandmothers smoked during pregnancy had a 67% likelihood of exhibiting autism-related traits. This includes repetitive behaviors and poor social communication skills. The study also found that the risk of being diagnosed with autism increased by 53% in girls whose maternal grandmothers smoked.
The study suggests that girls who are exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb may undergo negative changes in the developing eggs. These negative changes can be carried over to her children. Co-author of the study, Professor Marcus Pembrey, explained the results of the study. “There is DNA damage that is transmitted to the grandchildren or there is some adaptive response to the smoking that leaves the grandchild more vulnerable to ASD. We have no explanation for the sex difference, although we have previously found that grand-maternal smoking is associated with different growth patterns in grandsons and granddaughters.”
He continued, “More specifically, we know smoking can damage the DNA of mitochondria — the numerous “power-packs” contained in every cell, and mitochondria are only transmitted to the next generation via the mother’s egg. The initial mitochondrial DNA mutations often have no overt effect in the mother herself, but the impact can increase when transmitted to her own children.”
Researchers noted that additional studies need to be done to determine what the molecular changes could be. They added that many different factors, such as genetic variation, are thought to impact the development of autism spectrum disorder.
The Link Between Smoking And Autism
According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Previous studies have linked smoking to the onset of autism. A 2012 study found that smoking during pregnancy can raise the chances of developing high-functioning autism. During this study, researchers examined data on 634,000 children. They compared these participants to more than 3,000 children who were diagnosed with autism. The study found that about 13% of mothers smoked during pregnancy, and 11% of the mothers of children with autism reported smoking during pregnancy.
Researchers also found that children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy had a 25% increased chance of developing high-functioning autism such as Asperger’s syndrome. Alycia Halladay, Director for Environmental Research for Autism Speaks, explained, “There are many potential biological pathways for which tobacco can harm the developing baby.”
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