We know that genes play a huge part in the development of autism, but new research indicates that a particular hormone may have a part to play too.
The hormones and autism puzzle
“Scientist have identified a link between exposure to high levels of oestrogen sex hormones in the womb and the likelihood of developing autism,” Science Daily explains.
The research team have published their findings in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and it’s not their first go-around with important autism research.
Back in 2014, they looked at hormone levels – and particularly androgens – in the amniotic fluid in the womb. They found that the androgens were higher in male foetuses who later developed autism.
“These androgens are produced in higher quantities in male than in female foetuses on average, so might also explain why autism occurs more often in boys,” Science Daily reports.
Oestrogens and androgens
Now those researchers have looked at oestrogen instead, finding that all four oestrogens were significantly elevated in the 98 foetuses that went on to develop autism.
“This new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition,” Professor Simon Baron-Cohen the Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge says.
“Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing foetal brain.”
It’s not yet known whether these elevated hormone levels originate from the mother, the placenta or the baby. Next steps will be to try to determine this and work out what’s happening to create these increased levels, the study team says.
“We are interested in understanding autism, not preventing it,” Professor Baron-Cohen explained.