DEC 10, 2015 6:50 PM PST

Autism Linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
A new study marks a step forward in figuring out the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD refer to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by language impairments, social disconnection, and repetitive behaviors. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity levels. The underlying causes of ASD remain unclear. However, there has been evidence linking the development of ASD to exposure to certain sex hormones early in life. The sex hormones linked to ASD, called androgens, are responsible for the development of male-typical characteristics. The most well-known androgen is testosterone.

While all women produce androgens, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) overproduce them, even during pregnancy. PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders. The abnormally high levels of androgen cause problems such as excessive hair growth, ovulation issues, and weight gain. The syndrome also causes many small cysts to grow on the ovaries. PCOS affects 5 to 15 percent of women of child-bearing age.
 
A new study marks a step-forward in figuring out the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Swedish researchers, led by psychiatrist Kyriaki Kosidou, hypothesized children born to mothers with PCOS had an increased risk of developing ASD. They thought the sex hormones might influence the child’s developing nervous system and brain.

They drew data from national Swedish registers that collected health and sociodemographic data on the entire Swedish population. The study pool consisted of all the 4 to 17-year old children born in Sweden from 1984 to 2011. They identified approximately 24,000 ASD cases and compared them to 200,000 controls. 

The data showed that children born to women with PCOS are 59 percent more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder than children born to a mother without the syndrome. "The risk was further increased among mothers with both PCOS and obesity, a condition common to PCOS that is related to [even] more severely increased androgens,” said Kosidou.
 

Among women with PCOS, 1.3 percent were underweight, 41.3 percent were of normal weight, 31.7 percent were overweight, and 25.7 percent were obese. In comparison, among women without PCOS, 3.8 percent were underweight, 67.7 percent were normal weight, 20.9 percent were overweight, and 7.6 percent were obese.

Autism spectrum disorders are five times more common in boys than in girls. Yet, children born to mothers with PCOS had the same risk of developing ASD regardless of gender.

"It is too early to make specific recommendations to clinicians in terms of care for pregnant women with PCOS," said senior investigator Renee Gardner. The study still needs to be replicated and further studies need to be done to explore the mechanisms behind how PCOS affects the development of ASD. 

“While we did observe an increased risk for ASD, it was a modest increase for a relatively rare disorder. Chances are that children born to a mother with PCOS will not develop autism," Kosidou told the Huffington Post. 

The study was publicly published on December 8, 2015, in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Sources: study via Molecular Psychiatry, Karolinska Institutet press release via Science Daily, Huffington Post

 
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
You May Also Like
DEC 20, 2020
Microbiology
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
DEC 20, 2020
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
Scientist Katalin Karikó studied mRNA vaccines for years. She spent years getting grant rejections, but has now helped c ...
DEC 29, 2020
Microbiology
How CRISPR Can Help Create a Vaccine for a Common Parasite
DEC 29, 2020
How CRISPR Can Help Create a Vaccine for a Common Parasite
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is thought to infect a third of the people on the planet as well as a wide range of other ...
DEC 31, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Silent Mice Drive Autism Gene Discovery
DEC 31, 2020
Silent Mice Drive Autism Gene Discovery
Around 1 in 54 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, a broad range of conditions tha ...
JAN 06, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Junk DNA Helps Control the Body Clock
JAN 06, 2021
Junk DNA Helps Control the Body Clock
Our bodies run on a kind of molecular clock, which helps regulate and time certain functions beyond just waking and slee ...
JAN 07, 2021
Cardiology
Climbing Some Stairs is a Good Way to Check Heart Health
JAN 07, 2021
Climbing Some Stairs is a Good Way to Check Heart Health
If you can climb four flights in under a minute, your heart is probably in good shape, according to new work presented a ...
JAN 12, 2021
Microbiology
Connecting Gut Microbes, Diet, and Health
JAN 12, 2021
Connecting Gut Microbes, Diet, and Health
Advances in genetic technologies have revolutionized biomedical research in recent years. One example is the discovery t ...
Loading Comments...