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Cambridge University Scientists Discover Estrogen in the Womb Linked to Autism


A biobank was setup over 40 years ago that has collected amniotic samples from over 100,000 pregnancies. Scientists reviewed these samples looking for prenatal sex steroid hormones called estrogens.

Estrogens were significantly higher in fetuses who later developed autism.

Elevated levels of prenatal estrogens are more predictive of autism than high levels of prenatal androgens (testosterone). Despite the belief that associates estrogens with feminisation, prenatal estrogens alter brain growth and masculinise the brain in many mammals, which could contribute to why more males develop austism than females.


Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge: “This new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition. Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing fetal brain.”

Alex Tsompanidis, a PhD student in Cambridge: “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.”


You can read the full article on Cambridge’s website here.