Foetal oestrogens and autism

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Nov;25(11):2970-2978. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0454-9. Epub 2019 Jul 29.


Elevated latent prenatal steroidogenic activity has been found in the amniotic fluid of autistic boys, based on measuring prenatal androgens and other steroid hormones. To date, it is unclear if other prenatal steroids also contribute to autism likelihood. Prenatal oestrogens need to be investigated, as they play a key role in synaptogenesis and corticogenesis during prenatal development, in both males and females. Here we test whether levels of prenatal oestriol, oestradiol, oestrone and oestrone sulphate in amniotic fluid are associated with autism, in the same Danish Historic Birth Cohort, in which prenatal androgens were measured, using univariate logistic regression (n = 98 cases, n = 177 controls). We also make a like-to-like comparison between the prenatal oestrogens and androgens. Oestradiol, oestrone, oestriol and progesterone each related to autism in univariate analyses after correction with false discovery rate. A comparison of standardised odds ratios showed that oestradiol, oestrone and progesterone had the largest effects on autism likelihood. These results for the first time show that prenatal oestrogens contribute to autism likelihood, extending the finding of elevated prenatal steroidogenic activity in autism. This likely affects sexual differentiation, brain development and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Estradiol
  • Estriol
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Age
  • Paternal Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*
  • Progesterone


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Estriol