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Original Investigation
July 3, 2013

Autism and Mental Retardation Among Offspring Born After In Vitro Fertilization

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, England
  • 2Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
  • 4Department of Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
JAMA. 2013;310(1):75-84. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.7222
Abstract

Importance  Between 1978 and 2010, approximately 5 million infants were born after in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. Yet limited information on neurodevelopment after IVF exists, especially after the first year of life.

Objective  To examine the association between use of any IVF and different IVF procedures and the risk of autistic disorder and mental retardation in the offspring.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A population-based, prospective cohort study using Swedish national health registers. Offspring born between 1982 and 2007 were followed up for a clinical diagnosis of autistic disorder or mental retardation until December 31, 2009. The exposure of interest was IVF, categorized according to whether intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) for male infertility was used and whether embryos were fresh or frozen. For ICSI, whether sperm were ejaculated or surgically extracted was also considered.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Relative risks (RRs) for autistic disorder and mental retardation and rates per 100 000 person-years, comparing spontaneously conceived offspring with those born after an IVF procedure and comparing 5 IVF procedures used in Sweden vs IVF without ICSI with fresh embryo transfer, the most common treatment. We also analyzed the subgroup restricted to singletons.

Results  Of the more than 2.5 million infants born, 30 959 (1.2%) were conceived by IVF and were followed up for a mean 10 (SD, 6) years. Overall, 103 of 6959 children (1.5%) with autistic disorder and 180 of 15 830 (1.1%) with mental retardation were conceived by IVF. The RR for autistic disorder after any procedure compared with spontaneous conception was 1.14 (95% CI, 0.94-1.39; 19.0 vs 15.6 per 100 000 person-years). The RR for mental retardation was 1.18 (95% CI, 1.01-1.36; 46.3 vs 39.8 per 100 000 person-years). For both outcomes, there was no statistically significant association when restricting analysis to singletons. Compared with IVF without ICSI with fresh embryo transfer, there were statistically significantly increased risks of autistic disorder following ICSI using surgically extracted sperm and fresh embryos (RR, 4.60 [95% CI, 2.14-9.88]; 135.7 vs 29.3 per 100 000 person-years); for mental retardation following ICSI using surgically extracted sperm and fresh embryos (RR, 2.35 [95% CI, 1.01-5.45]; 144.1 vs 60.8 per 100 000 person-years); and following ICSI using ejaculated sperm and fresh embryos (RR, 1.47 [95% CI, 1.03-2.09]; 90.6 vs 60.8 per 100 000 person-years). When restricting the analysis to singletons, the risks of autistic disorder associated with ICSI using surgically extracted sperm were not statistically significant, but the risks associated with ICSI using frozen embryos were significant for mental retardation (with frozen embryos, RR, 2.36 [95% CI, 1.04-5.36], 118.4 vs 50.6 per 100 000 person-years]; with fresh embryos, RR, 1.60 [95% CI, 1.00-2.57], 80.0 vs 50.6 per 100 000 person-years).

Conclusions and Relevance  Compared with spontaneous conception, IVF treatment overall was not associated with autistic disorder but was associated with a small but statistically significantly increased risk of mental retardation. For specific procedures, IVF with ICSI for paternal infertility was associated with a small increase in the RR for autistic disorder and mental retardation compared with IVF without ICSI. The prevalence of these disorders was low, and the increase in absolute risk associated with IVF was small.

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