JUL 30, 2019 10:49 AM PDT

New Research Links Elevated Prenatal Estrogen Levels & Autism

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

New research linking high levels of estrogen hormones in the womb and the likelihood of autism development was published yesterday in Molecular Psychiatry. The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the State Serum Institute in Denmark, builds on 20-year old research which first proposed the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism. 

In 2015 the Cambridge team measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones in amniotic fluids from the Danish Historic Birth Cohort (DHBC), including two androgens. Their results showed a higher quantity of androgen production in male fetuses, which may be one explanation of why autism occurs more frequently in boys. 

Their most recent research investigated whether levels of prenatal estrogen hormones—estriol, estradiol, estrone, or estrone sulfate—are associated with autism. The same amniotic fluid samples from the DHBC were used as the 2015 study, which included 98 fetuses who later developed an autism spectrum disorder and 177 who did not. 

Their analysis determined that estradiol levels had the highest link to the likelihood of autism development, followed by estriol and estrone. Estrone sulfate did not show any statistical significance. They concluded that high levels of prenatal estrogens were even more predictive of autism development than androgen levels, including testosterone. They predict that elevated fetal steroidogenic activity likely affects sexual differentiation, brain development, and brain function.

In a press release from the University of Cambridge, the authors state that this is the first reported evidence of prenatal estrogens association with autism. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen—who is also the director of the university's Autism Research Center—said, "this new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition." He cautions that these findings should not be used to screen for autism. As he told University of Cambridge reporters, their team is "interested in understanding autism, not preventing it."

Regarding the origin of the elevated hormone levels, researcher Alex Tsompanidis told University of Cambridge reporters that, "these elevated hormones could be coming from the mother, the baby, or the placenta. Our next step should be to study all these possible sources and how they interact during pregnancy."

Sources: University of Cambridge, Molecular Psychiatry

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
MAR 14, 2021
Plants & Animals
Habitat Recreation Coaxes Captive Lemurs Into Hibernation
MAR 14, 2021
Habitat Recreation Coaxes Captive Lemurs Into Hibernation
Many types of lemurs live in the forests of Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa. In the wild, the fat-tai ...
MAR 18, 2021
Neuroscience
Pregnancy Alters the Stress Response in Surprising Ways
MAR 18, 2021
Pregnancy Alters the Stress Response in Surprising Ways
Researchers from Ohio State University have found that the stress response works in unexpected ways in pregnant mice. Th ...
MAR 23, 2021
Coronavirus
A Mother-to-Fetus COVID-19 Transmission Has Devastating Consequences
MAR 23, 2021
A Mother-to-Fetus COVID-19 Transmission Has Devastating Consequences
A pregnant woman infected with the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 passed the virus on to her unborn child through the placent ...
MAR 28, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Understanding How Cold-Induced Tooth Pain Happens
MAR 28, 2021
Understanding How Cold-Induced Tooth Pain Happens
Our teeth do a lot of work, and they may become sensitive to cold as the gums erode due to aging or because they have an ...
APR 05, 2021
Neuroscience
Could a Keto Diet Treat Alzheimer's Disease?
APR 05, 2021
Could a Keto Diet Treat Alzheimer's Disease?
  Researchers from Brigham Young University have found evidence that eating a ketogenic diet- which is a diet that ...
APR 13, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Color-Changing "Invisible Tattoo" for Long-Term Health Monitoring
APR 13, 2021
A Color-Changing "Invisible Tattoo" for Long-Term Health Monitoring
German researchers have developed an innovative method for continuously tracking and monitoring biomarkers and drugs cir ...
Loading Comments...