The Fetal Androgen Theory
Autism affects males much more often than females. The explanation for this must either lie in diagnostic practice (e.g., there may be under-diagnosis of females due to their better surface social skills), hormones (e.g., the sex steroid hormones such as testosterone, which is converted into estradiol/estrogen, both of which affect brain function and brain development), genetics (e.g., X-linked genes, or genes regulating sex steroid hormones) or (most likely) a mix of all three factors. In this talk I summarize work from our lab from 5 lines of investigation:
(1) The role of testosterone produced by the fetus (henceforth fetal testosterone or FT) in the development of individual differences in typical language and social skills, and in typical attention to detail and narrow interests;
(2) The role of FT in the development of typical brain structure and function;
(3) The role of FT in the development of autism and autistic traits.
(4) The evidence for sex steroid hormone dysregulation in autism and their family relatives.
(5) The association between genes that regulate testosterone, and autism.
These lines of research suggest a baby’s sex steroid hormones are a key part of the puzzle of autism.