High Levels of Oestrogen Sex Hormone in Womb Linked to Autism
High levels of oestrogen sex
hormones in the womb may increase the risk of autism in the new born according
to study done by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the State Serum
Institute in Denmark.
An earlier study done four years ago had shown that male foetuses with a higher concentration of androgens were likely to result in the children developing autism. This time they checked the oestrogen levels. All four oestrogens were significantly elevated, on average, in the 98 foetuses who later developed autism compared to the 177 foetuses wo 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 feminisation, prenatal oestrogens have effects on brain growth and also masculinise the brain in many mammals.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, who led this study and who first proposed the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism, said: “This new 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 foetal brain.”
However, the team cautioned that these findings cannot and should not be used to screen for autism. “We are interested in understanding autism, not preventing it,” added Professor Baron- Cohen.
Dr Arieh Cohen, the biochemist on the team, based at the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen, said: “This is a terrific example of how a unique biobank set up 40 years ago is still reaping scientific fruit today in unimagined ways, through international collaboration.”