Foetal testosterone linked to autistic traits in toddlers

Recent reports have confirmed a genetic basis for autism, with new evidence suggesting that autistic traits may be caused by genetic errors first introduced during the formation of the egg and sperm. But autism is a complex disorder. In an article recently published in Molecular Autism, Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues remind us that many other factors can influence the development of autism, even before birth.

Foetal testosterone and autistic traits in 18 to 24-month-old children
Bonnie Auyeung, Kevin Taylor, Gerald Hackett, Simon Baron-Cohen
Molecular Autism 2010, 1:11

Pre-natal testosterone has been linked to cognitive sex differences, and recent studies have revealed a positive correlation between foetal testosterone and autistic traits in 6 to 10 year old children. In their research, Baron-Cohen and colleagues demonstrate that foetal testosterone levels are also a significant predictor of autistic traits in 18 to 24 month old children.

A consistently positive correlation between levels of foetal testosterone and autistic traits in different age ranges suggests a robust association, and highlights the need for further studies into the genetic factors involved. Further work aimed at identifying the underlying sources of variation in autistic traits will, ultimately, contribute to a greater understanding of the complexities of autism recently highlighted by Martin Raff in BMC Biology.

Jenny Withers
Assistant Journal Development Editor

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