• A new study has discovered a connection between high levels of the sex hormone estrogen in the womb, and the possibility of it causing autism.
  • The new research suggests that an increase in prenatal sex steroid hormones is among the possible causes of autism.
  • This isn’t the first time this has been suggested by scientific research. In 2015, scientists from the Denmark State Serum Institute and the University of Cambridge researched and discovered that the high-level presence of prenatal steroid hormones in the womb could cause autism.
  • However, scientists of the new research warn that its findings shouldn’t and can’t be used to screen for autism.


Quick Summary

A team of scientists has added further evidence with their study to suggest that the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism, which was initially proposed 20 years ago stating that steroids such as estrogen as well as its precursors are linked to autism is correct. This recent study was published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal.



The scientists aimed at determining the role which estrogens play in autism as its rarely been studied by other past related studies. Prenatal estrogens play a part in neonatal and foetal brain development. Estrogens and its receptors are critical components in the development of the male and female brain. It also controls the neurodevelopmental processes like apoptosis, synaptogenesis, and neuronal differentiation, however, it hasn’t been thoroughly studied in autism.



The study team developed their previous findings by collecting the same 98 individual amniotic fluid samples from the Danish Biobank, which they previously used. The Danish biobank has collected amniotic samples from more than 100,000 pregnancies. However, the study focused on estrogen, the prenatal sex steroid hormone.

The study team used Pearson’s correlation coefficient to calculate the matrix correlation of all assayed steroid hormones. They examined the univariate distribution of the estrogens, and all the hormones displayed a rightward skew. The Box-Cox procedure was used to transform the oestrogens to reduce their skew because their statistical power of logistic regression is affected by the predictor variable. Also, the univariate logistic regression model was utilized to determine if each hormone increased autism possibility in this cohort.



The analytical method carried out above is an essential next step to their previous study; this is because most of their previously studied hormones are directly transformed into oestrogens. The evaluation reports that the increased levels of prenatal amniotic oestriol, oestradiol, and oestrone are each linked with autism. However, oestradiol levels are the most potent predictor of autism possibility in univariate logistic regression models.




  • The scientists of this study warn that its findings shouldn’t and can’t be used to screen for autism.
  • Further research needs to be carried out in autistic females to know if correlating results will be found as this study focused on autistic males.