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Original Research

Preschool Outcomes Following Prenatal Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Exposure: Differences in Language and Behavior, but Not Cognitive Function

Katrina C. Johnson, PhD; Alicia K. Smith, PhD; Zachary N. Stowe, MD; D. Jeffrey Newport, MD; and Patricia A. Brennan, PhD

Published: February 24, 2016

Article Abstract

Objective: To test the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) is associated with language and behavioral outcomes in preschool-aged children, while accounting for confounds such as concomitant exposures and maternal mental illness.

Method: An observational, prospective, longitudinal study of mental illness in pregnancy was conducted at a university-based women’s mental health clinic (April 2010-November 2012). A sample of 178 mother-child dyads participated in a laboratory visit at preschool age (2.5-5.5 years). The majority of women (87%) received psychotropic medication during pregnancy. Psychiatric status (based on DSM-IV), other medication use, and substance use were serially assessed and tested as confounds. Primary outcome measures included standardized measures of expressive language and cognitive function and mother and alternate caregiver ratings of child behavior problems, including the Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist.

Results: Linear regression analyses revealed that, after controlling for relevant covariates, expressive language scores from the Test of Early Language Development, 3rd edition, were negatively associated with prenatal SRI exposure (β = -0.15, t = -2.41), while the PDD behavioral problems subscales completed by alternate caregivers and mothers were positively associated with prenatal SRI exposure (β = 0.17, t = 2.01; β = 0.16, t = 2.00, respectively). Cognitive function, measured using the Differential Ability Scales, 2nd edition, was not associated with any medication exposures.

Conclusions: The current data suggest a small but significant association between prenatal SRI exposure and preschool outcomes, including expressive language and behavior problems. These data corroborate data from recent, population-based studies, although overall, published findings are mixed. Replication and identification of moderating risk factors are needed to understand potential clinical implications.’ ‹

Volume: 77

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