Researchers in Denmark have recently discovered another reason why boys may be more vulnerable to developing Autism over girls. They found that males with Autism had been exposed to higher levels of hormones in their mother’s wombs than females, as well as compared to neurotypical males of the same age.
Researchers analyzed amniotic fluid of pregnant mothers that had been stored during testing. They discovered that boys with Autism, on average, had raised levels of testosterone and cortisol, among other hormones, while in the womb. This research provides further evidence that Autism may begin to develop before the child is even born. It also helps unravel some of the mystery of why Autism rates are so much higher in boys, rather than girls.
The scientists at Cambridge and Copenhagen studied medical records and biobank material to analyze the amniotic fluid samples of 128 boys later diagnosed with Autism. They discovered that these boys had higher levels of four hormones which form a biological production line in the body that starts with progesterone and ends with testosterone.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University and member of ICare4Autism’s Advisory Committee states, “”In the womb, boys produce about twice as much testosterone as girls, but compared with typical boys, the Autism group has even higher levels. It’s a significant difference and may have a large effect on brain development.” Because boys are naturally exposed to more testosterone in the womb, even small rises in the hormone can cause imbalances which can contribute to Autism development. Previous work that was done in animals has also shown that testosterone plays a major role in the development of the brain while still in the womb.
This current study will be followed up, to see if hormone imbalances may have any significant effect in Autism development in girls. Richard Sharpe of the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at Edinburgh University has called the study “pioneering”. He continues, “We now know that subtle variations in fetal development are an important determinant of later [disorders], which may be lifelong. Researching this in humans is incredibly difficult because of the obvious limitations in accessing what is happening in the fetus inside the womb.”
The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference will be discussing other medical studies and scientific advances in NYC from June 30th to July 2nd. Speakers include Dr. Martha Herbert! Dr. Herbert is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a Pediatric Neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and Director of the TRANSCEND Research Program. She will be giving several presentations, which include the gene-environment approach to studying Autism. To hear Dr. Herbert speak, please select tickets here. Early bird ticket specials are still available, so now is the best time to register! This is an Autism conference you will not want to miss!