Wednesday January 29, 2020

High Levels of Oestrogen Could Cause Autism

In 2015, the researchers measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones, including two known as androgens

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Oestrogen, Autism, High
Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the discovery adds further evidence to support the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism first proposed 20 years ago. Pixabay

Researchers have identified a link between exposure to high levels of oestrogen sex hormones in the womb and the likelihood of developing autism.

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the discovery adds further evidence to support the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism first proposed 20 years ago.

In 2015, the researchers measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones, including two known as androgens, in the amniotic fluid in the womb and discovered that they were higher in male foetuses who later developed autism.

These androgens are produced in higher quantities in male than in female foetuses on average, so might also explain why autism occurs more often in boys. They are also known to masculinise parts of the brain and to have effects on the number of connections between brain cells.

Oestrogen, Autism, High
Researchers have identified a link between exposure to high levels of oestrogen sex hormones in the womb and the likelihood of developing autism. Pixabay

“This new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition. Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing foetal brain,” said study lead author Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor at the University of Cambridge.

Now, the same scientists have built on their previous findings by testing the amniotic fluid samples from the same 98 individuals sampled from the Danish Biobank, which has collected amniotic samples from over 100,000 pregnancies, but this time looking at another set of prenatal sex steroid hormones called oestrogens.

This is an important next step because some of the hormones previously studied are directly converted into oestrogens. All four oestrogens were significantly elevated, on average, in the 98 foetuses who later developed autism, compared to the 177 foetuses who did not.

High levels of prenatal oestrogens were even more predictive of the likelihood of autism than were high levels of prenatal androgens (such as testosterone).

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Contrary to popular belief that associates oestrogens with feminisation, prenatal oestrogens have effects on brain growth and also masculinise the brain in many mammals.

“This finding is exciting because the role of oestrogens in autism has hardly been studied and we hope that we can learn more about how they contribute to foetal brain development in further experiments. We still need to see whether the same result holds in autistic females,” said Alexa Pohl from the University of Cambridge. (IANS)

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Researchers Identify 102 Genes Associated with Autism

It's critically important that families of children with and without autism participate in genetic studies because genetic discoveries are the primary means to understanding the molecular, cellular, and systems-level underpinnings of autism

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Autism
Researchers have discovered how a Genetic Alteration that increases the risk of developing Autism and Tourette's impairs brain communication. Pixabay

In the largest genetic sequencing study of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to date, researchers have identified 102 genes associated with risk for autism.

The discovery shows significant progress towards teasing apart the genes associated with autism from those associated with intellectual disability and developmental delay, conditions which often overlap.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood. In most cases the conditions are apparent during the first five years of life.

“This is a landmark study, both for its size and for the large international collaborative effort it required.

“With these identified genes we can begin to understand what brain changes underlie ASD and begin to consider novel treatment approaches,” said Joseph D Buxbaum, Director of the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

For the study published in the journal Cell, an international team of researchers from more than 50 sites collected and analyzed more than 35,000 participant samples, including nearly 12,000 with ASD, the largest autism sequencing cohort to date.

Autism
Families of children with autism face high physical, mental and emotional burdens, are sometimes ridiculed and even accused of child abuse, says a new study. Pixabay

Using an enhanced analytic framework to integrate both rare, inherited genetic mutations and those occurring spontaneously when the egg or sperm are formed, researchers identified the 102 genes associated with ASD risk.

Of those genes, 49 were also associated with other developmental delays.

The larger sample size of this study enabled the research team to increase the number of genes associated with ASD from 65 in 2015 to 102 today.

In addition to identifying subsets of the 102 ASD-associated genes, the researchers showed that ASD genes impact brain development or function and that both types of disruptions can result in autism.

“Through our genetic analyses, we discovered that it’s not just one major class of cells implicated in autism, but rather that many disruptions in brain development and in neuronal function can lead to autism,” said Buxbaum.

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It’s critically important that families of children with and without autism participate in genetic studies because genetic discoveries are the primary means to understanding the molecular, cellular, and systems-level underpinnings of autism.

“We now have specific, powerful tools that help us understand those underpinnings, and new drugs will be developed based on our newfound understanding of the molecular bases of autism,” the researchers noted. (IANS)