Guys who are exposed to high levels of estrogen in the womb may have a higher risk of autism, research suggests.
Scientists have tested the amniotic fluid of more than 270 pregnancies. They discovered that four types of estrogens were higher among the babies who developed autism.
Prenatal exposure to these hormones has been linked to altered brain growth, the researchers at Cambridge University said.
The study has been labeled as & # 39; a good first step & # 39; to find out what causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
However, the academics currently do not know where the elevated hormone levels come from.
Exposure to estrogen in the womb can increase a child's risk of autism (stock)
Experts emphasize, however, that we should not let ourselves be carried away & # 39; and further investigation is needed before amniotic fluid can be used to screen for the condition.
Lead author Professor Simon Baron-Cohen said: “This new finding supports the idea that elevated prenatal steroid hormones are one of the possible causes for the condition.
& # 39; Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones are likely to interact with genetic factors that affect the developing fetal brain. & # 39;
Autism affects more than one in 100 people in the UK to some extent, according to statistics from the National Autistic Society.
And in the US, one in 59 children had an autism spectrum disorder last year alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2015, the same scientists measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones in a group of amniotic fluid from pregnant women.
Steroid hormones are secreted by the & # 39; steroid glands & # 39 ;. These consist of the adrenal cortex of the kidneys, the testicles, the ovaries and the placenta during pregnancy.
Two of these four hormones were androgens, which play a role in reproduction and development of & # 39; male traits & # 39 ;.
The most common androgen is testosterone, which is higher in men, but also gives women their sex drive.
Increased levels of androgens in the amniotic fluid led the researchers to speculate whether this could be the reason why autism is more common in men.
To build on this, the scientists tested the amniotic fluid of the same 98 women who were taken from the Danish Biobank in more than 100,000 pregnancies.
This time they were also looking for estrogens, to which some of the & # 39; original & # 39; four hormones are converted later.
The & # 39; dominant & # 39; Estrogens that occur naturally in women are estrone, estradiol, estriol and estetrol.
THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout the life of a person.
Specific signs of autism include:
- Responses to smelling, tasting, looking, feeling or sounding are unusual
- Difficulty in adapting to routine changes
- Unable to repeat or repeat what is being said to them
- Difficulties in expressing desires with words or movements
- Unable to discuss their own feelings or those of others
- Difficulties with acts of affection such as hugging
- Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
- Difficulties with regard to other people
- Cannot point at objects or look at objects when others point to them
All four estrogens were elevated in the 98 fetuses who started to develop autism, compared to 177 unborn children who did not have the condition.
Estrogens also appeared to be more associated with autism than androgens, according to the results published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The researchers plan to investigate the cause of the peak in these & # 39; raised hormones & # 39; which may come from the mother or placenta.
Study author Dr. Alexa Pohl said: & # 39; This finding is exciting because the role of estrogens in autism has hardly been investigated.
& # 39; We hope that we can learn more about how they contribute to the development of the fetal brain in further experiments.
& # 39; We still need to see if the same result applies to autistic women. & # 39;
Dr. James Findon, psychology teacher at King & College London, is encouraged by the results, but emphasizes that they must be interpreted with caution.
& # 39; This is a scientifically robust study, but we need to see replication in an independent cohort to be able to really rely on the results, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; There is hardly any work on prenatal estrogen in autism, so although this is a good first step, we must be careful and not get carried away.
& # 39; This new study gives us an interesting insight into the role of sex hormones as a possible cause of autism.
& # 39; However, it cannot and should not be interpreted as a way to screen for autism.
He added: & Moreover, since the study only looked at men, we do not know whether the results also apply to women with the condition.
& # 39; It is unknown how prenatal sex hormones can influence neurological development. But this study lays the foundation for future studies to further investigate this relationship. & # 39;
The researchers agree that these findings cannot be used to screen for autism in unborn babies.
"We are interested in understanding autism, not to prevent it," said Professor Baron-Cohen.
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