Valproic Acid in Pregnancy Revisited: Neurobehavioral, Biochemical and Molecular Changes Affecting the Embryo and Fetus in Humans and in Animals: A Narrative Review

Asher Ornoy, Boniface Echefu, Maria Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Valproic acid (VPA) is a very effective anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer with relatively few side effects. Being an epigenetic modulator, it undergoes clinical trials for the treatment of advanced prostatic and breast cancer. However, in pregnancy, it seems to be the most teratogenic antiepileptic drug. Among the proven effects are congenital malformations in about 10%. The more common congenital malformations are neural tube defects, cardiac anomalies, urogenital malformations including hypospadias, skeletal malformations and orofacial clefts. These effects are dose related; daily doses below 600 mg have a limited teratogenic potential. VPA, when added to other anti-seizure medications, increases the malformations rate. It induces malformations even when taken for indications other than epilepsy, adding to the data that epilepsy is not responsible for the teratogenic effects. VPA increases the rate of neurodevelopmental problems causing reduced cognitive abilities and language impairment. It also increases the prevalence of specific neurodevelopmental syndromes like autism (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). High doses of folic acid administered prior to and during pregnancy might alleviate some of the teratogenic effect of VPA and other AEDs. Several teratogenic mechanisms are proposed for VPA, but the most important mechanisms seem to be its effects on the metabolism of folate, SAMe and histones, thus affecting DNA methylation. VPA crosses the human placenta and was found at higher concentrations in fetal blood. Its concentrations in milk are low, therefore nursing is permitted. Animal studies generally recapitulate human data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number390
JournalINTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MOLECULAR SCIENCES
Volume25
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Keywords

  • autism
  • neural tube defects
  • teratogenic antiepileptic drug
  • valproic acid

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry

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