Molecular and behavioural evidence points to an association between sex-steroid hormones and autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and/or autistic traits. Prenatal androgen levels are associated with autistic traits, and several genes involved in steroidogenesis are associated with autism, Asperger Syndrome and/or autistic traits. Furthermore, higher rates of androgen-related conditions (such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, hirsutism, acne and hormone-related cancers) are reported in women with autism spectrum conditions. A key question therefore is if serum levels of gonadal and adrenal sex-steroids (particularly testosterone, estradiol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and androstenedione) are elevated in individuals with ASC. This was tested in a total sample of n=166 participants. The final eligible sample for hormone analysis comprised n=128 participants, n=58 of whom had a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism (33 males and 25 females) and n=70 of whom were age- and IQ-matched typical controls (39 males and 31 females). ASC diagnosis (without any interaction with sex) strongly predicted androstenedione levels (p<0.01), and serum androstenedione levels were significantly elevated in the ASC group (Mann-Whitney W=2677, p=0.002), a result confirmed by permutation testing in females (permutation-corrected p=0.02). This result is discussed in terms of androstenedione being the immediate precursor of, and being converted into, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, or estrogens in hormone-sensitive tissues and organs.
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