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Fraternal twins share the same womb, even though they don't share identical genes. That could be important, said Dr. John Constantino of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who wasn't involved in the new research.
"Finding so many fraternal twin pairs in whom both twins have autism spectrum disorders is a key finding that puts a spotlight on pregnancy as a time when environmental factors might exert their effects," Constantino said.
Those factors could include stress, diet, infections, a mother's age and medications, experts said. The new study didn't try to determine what factors increase risk.
The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.
In another study published Monday in the same journal, researchers found a higher risk of autism among children born to mothers who took antidepressants during the year before birth, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy.
It's too early to advise pregnant women against antidepressants, however. Untreated depression also can be harmful to mother and baby, said lead author Lisa Croen of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente, a large health maintenance organization in California.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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