Autism linked to higher levels of 'male hormones' in the womb
University of Cambridge study finds higher levels of testosterone and other hormones in the womb increase the chances of developing the condition
Baby boys who are exposed to higher levels of male hormones in the womb are more likely to develop to autism, new research has suggested.
The exact causes of autism remain unknown, but University of Cambridge researchers say their findings could explain why males are up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than females.
The study looked at stored samples of amniotic fluid and identified samples from 128 males later diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition.
In these samples, researchers found, on average, the levels of testosterone and three other steroid hormones in the fluids were particularly high. In comparison, much lower levels were detected in the amniotic fluids of a control group of 217 boys who did not develop autism.
Lead researcher Professor Simon Baron-Cohen said this is one of the earliest non-genetic biomarkers identified in children who go on to develop autism.
Co-author Dr Michael Lombardo added that the results “pinpoint an important window in fetal development when such mechanisms exert their effects”.
Prof Baron-Cohen described the results as particularly striking because they were found across all subgroups of the autism spectrum, including Asperger Syndrome.
He said: “For the first time, we have also shown that these steroid hormones are elevated in children clinically diagnosed with autism. Because some of these hormones are produced in much higher quantities in males than in females, this may help us explain why autism is more common in males.”
But the results do not warrant prenatal screening tests or the use of steroid blockers as a form of treatment, he cautioned, adding that prenatal testing also raises serious ethical issues.
“These results should not be taken as a reason to jump to steroid hormone blockers as a treatment as this could have unwanted side effects and may have little to no effect in changing the potentially permanent effects that foetal steroid hormones exert during the early foundational stages of brain development.
"The value of the new results lies in identifying key biological mechanisms during fetal development that could play important roles in atypical brain development in autism.”
The results of the study are published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
- 1 Green village to be bulldozed and mined for lignite in Germany's quest for non-nuclear fuel
- 2 HeForShe campaign: Iceland to follow up Emma Watson speech with UN women's rights conference – for men only
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
- 5 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
Isis could become 'world’s first truly terrorist state' and bomb UK with nuclear and chemical weapons, Theresa May warns
Car tax disc changes: Five facts you never knew about your (almost obsolete) tax disc
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
£100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...
£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work in ...