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Maternal prenatal thyroid function and trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems: findings from the ALSPAC cohort


Maternal thyroid hormone may have impact on fetal brain development and consequently lead to offspring mental health problems. This study examined the role of maternal prenatal thyroid function on trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems. Data were taken from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. A total of 4839 mother–child pairs were included. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, free thyroxine (FT4), and thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO-Ab) were assessed during the first trimester of pregnancy. Childhood emotional and behavioural problems were assessed using the Strengths and difficulties questionnaire. A group-based modelling approach was used to identify the different trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems reported by parents over four waves of measurement at age 3.5 (42 months), 6.75 (81 months), 9 and 11 years. Multinomial logistic regression was then used to test for an association between hormone levels and class membership. We identified four trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems; normative-decreasing (49.7%), moderate-decreasing (35.7%), moderate-static (8.4%), and high-decreasing (6.2%) trajectory. There were no significant differences in the mean values of mother’s FT4, TSH, and the proportion of mothers with positive TPO-Ab between trajectories. Univariable and multivariable multinomial logistic models showed no association between maternal thyroid function (FT4, TSH, and TPO-Ab) and the trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems. The results of our study show that maternal thyroid parameters in a community population are not associated with trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems.

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We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses.


ALSPAC is supported by the UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant Ref: 102215/2/13/2) and the University of Bristol. Thyroxine, thyroid-stimulating hormone and thyroid antibody measurements on ALSPAC maternal pregnancy samples were analysed at the University of Glasgow with funding obtained by Professor Scott Nelson from the Chief Scientific Officer of Scotland (ETM/97). Dagnachew Fetene is supported by the University of Queensland Centennial Scholarship and Research Training program. Kim Betts and Rosa Alati are funded by UQ senior Strategic Development fellowship. James Scott is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Practitioner Fellowship Grant APP1105807.

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Correspondence to Dagnachew Muluye Fetene.

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Fetene, D.M., Betts, K.S., Scott, J.G. et al. Maternal prenatal thyroid function and trajectories of offspring emotional and behavioural problems: findings from the ALSPAC cohort. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 29, 871–879 (2020).

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  • Behaviour
  • Mental health
  • Offspring
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid function