Researchers reveal new mechanism behind more male autism

Otago researchers reveal new mechanism behind more male autism

(Medical Xpress) -- New University of Otago research into two sex hormones released by the testes of male fetuses and boys may help solve the enduring mystery of why autism is much more common in boys than girls.

Department of researchers have discovered that variations within normal- range levels of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH, also known as Müllerian inhibiting substance) and inhibin B (InhB) are linked with the severity of symptoms in boys with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disorders featuring repetitive or stereotyped behaviours as well as impairments to social interaction, communication and language.

The new Otago study, which challenges current thinking that ASD simply reflects a testosterone-fuelled extreme of male biology, was carried out by Dr Michael Pankhurst and Professor Ian McLennan and is newly published in the international journal Translational Psychiatry.

The researchers studied blood samples from 82 boys with ASD and 16 control boys, all aged between 4.4 to 8.9 years. Measuring the levels of the two hormones, the researchers found that these were highly variable from boy to boy, but no different on average between the two groups of boys.

However, in boys with ASD, those with high InhB levels tended to have worse autistic symptoms than those with low levels of the hormone. Conversely, ASD boys with high AMH levels tended to have fewer symptoms.

Professor McLennan says the findings indicate that male hormones are important for autism, but not because autistic boys have abnormal levels.

“While it has been previously suggested that exposure in the womb to excessive levels of testosterone might be creating an ‘extreme male brain’, this does not explain why some females have autism, or why males with do not exhibit an extreme male physical form.

“Our data suggest that the still-elusive primary initiating cause of ASD is common to both males and females, with the condition being more frequent in because normal levels of male hormones exacerbates the pathology,” he says.

The researchers investigated the potential role of AMH and InhB in the sex bias of ASD following their team’s earlier finding that these two hormones were factors regulating the rate of child development, which on average is slower in than .

Other researchers had shown that the brains of children with ASD grow atypically fast during early development, creating an infant with a large brain. Their brain development then becomes atypically slow, resulting in the size of the brain of an ASD adult being similar to that of the general population.

The researchers say that their hypothesis now needs further testing through longitudinal studies of at-risk male babies to determine whether their levels of AMH and InhB early in development can predict the breadth of autistic traits later in life.

Professor McLennan says that more broadly the team’s findings highlight the importance of uncovering the basis of such sex biases, which occur in most brain disorders.

“ASD is the prime example of a male bias in the same way that anorexia nervosa is the most well known condition with a female bias. Other sex biases include Alzheimer’s disease in women and motor neurone disease in men.”

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More information: Pankhurst, M.W., McLennan, I.S. (2012) Inhibin B and anti-Müllerian hormone/ Müllerian Inhibiting Substance may contribute to the male bias in autism. Translational Psychiatry. … /full/tp201272a.html
Journal information: Translational Psychiatry

Citation: Researchers reveal new mechanism behind more male autism (2012, August 15) retrieved 24 August 2019 from
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Aug 16, 2012
Excerpt: "...brains of children with ASD grow atypically fast during early development, creating an infant with a large brain. Their brain development then becomes atypically slow..."

When does their brain become atypically slow? Is it during the first two years of life when brain development is absolutely more dependent on the epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones to pare the excess synapses and prevent the onset of symptoms? Is there a sex difference in the response to nutrient chemicals: No. Is there a sex difference in the organized response to pheromones: Yes? Do researchers understand adaptive evolution in the context of ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction?

Does sleep impact socio-cognitive niche construction? Don't wake the baby! It's socio-cognitive niche is being post-prandially constructed.

Aug 19, 2012
It is quite a well known fact for sometime that Autism spectral disorders are more common in boys over girls, however, it would be good to see a print and information in general about how it effects girls with the disorder. I find that the lack of, not just information, but the lack of anybody finding out about places where they can go if they have this disorder to find out more about it, or just talk in general is actually very disturbing. There a numerous people, boys, girls, men and women with this disorder that have no idea where they can actually go to receive any form of help for this disorder. Some are just shoved pills at and said they will receive some form of therapy, but don't actually get contacted again, and the only way people seem to find out about any organisations to help with this kind of thing is if they know someone who works or has worked helping out people with this disorder. It's all very well doing research on it, but I would think it more important that

Aug 19, 2012
the relative information is accessible where people can go to get help for this disorder, or just to talk to people that understand it and people with it. It's extremely alarming the lack of that information and help for people with this disorder.

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