Prenatal testosterone may play autism role

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Prenatal testosterone may play autism role:

Children exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb showed more autism-related traits later in life, according to findings that suggest the male hormone may play a key role in the complex brain disorder.

The results support a hypothesis that higher levels of testosterone may contribute to autism and reinforce findings from tests on animals, said Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Britain’s Cambridge University, who worked on the study.
In Baron-Cohen’s ongoing study, the researchers measured fetal testosterone levels from pregnant women who had amniotic fluid taken for other reasons.

When the children were eight years old, the researchers used questionnaires to see whether they preferred social to solitary activities and how empathetic they were.

This allowed them to measure traits, that in an extreme form, are indicative of autism. In the study children with higher levels of fetal testosterone were better at things such as remembering patterns but not as interested in socializing.

The next step is collaborating with Danish researchers to tap a biological bank that has about 90,000 amniotic fluid samples to test whether there is a direct link between fetal testosterone and autism.

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