High levels of estrogen in the womb linked to autism

Posted on August 3, 2019

Research adds further evidence to support the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism first proposed 20 years ago. A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge and the State Serum Institute in Denmark measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones, including two knowns as androgens, in the amniotic fluid in the womb and discovered that they were higher in male fetuses who later developed autism.

It is found that high levels of oestrogens were significantly elevated, on average, in the 98 fetuses who later developed autism, compared to the 177 foetuses who did not. High levels of prenatal oestrogens were even more predictive of likelihood of autism than were high levels of prenatal androgens (such as testosterone).

Contrary to popular belief that associates oestrogens with feminization, prenatal oestrogens have effects on brain growth and also masculinize the brain in many mammals.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge says that this finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition. Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing fetal brain.

Dr Alexa Pohl says that the findings are exciting because the role of oestrogens in autism has hardly been studied, and we hope that we can learn more about how they contribute to fetal brain development in further experiments. However, there is still a need to see whether the same result holds true in autistic females.

Category(s):Autism spectrum disorders, Child Development

Source material from Science Daily