Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are critical for brain development and have been linked with neurodevelopmental outcomes. We conducted a population-based case-control study in California to examine the association between PUFAs measured in midpregnancy serum samples and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring. ASD cases (n = 499) were identified through the California Department of Developmental Services and matched to live-birth population controls (n = 502) on birth month, year (2010 or 2011), and sex. Logistic regression models were used to examine crude and adjusted associations. In secondary analyses, we examined ASD with and without co-occurring intellectual disability (ID; n = 67 and n = 432, respectively) and effect modification by sex and ethnicity. No clear patterns emerged, though there was a modest inverse association with the top quartile of linoleic acid level (highest quartile vs. lowest: adjusted odds ratio = 0.74, 95% confidence interval: 0.49, 1.11; P for trend = 0.10). Lower levels of total and ω-3 PUFAs were associated with ASD with ID (lowest decile of total PUFAs vs. deciles 4-7: adjusted odds ratio = 2.78, 95% confidence interval: 1.13, 6.82) but not ASD without ID. We did not observe evidence of effect modification by the factors examined. These findings do not suggest a strong association between midpregnancy PUFA levels and ASD. In further work, researchers should consider associations with ASD with ID and in other time windows.
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