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Seminar: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
February 26, 2016 @ 16:00 - 17:30
The prenatal sex steroid theory of autism
Friday 26 February @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm (Sherrington Library)
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge will be speaking on how prenatal sex steroid hormones may affect males more often than females. His research group has found the Δ4 sex steroid pathway to be implicated and has recently published results providing the first direct evidence of elevated foetal steroidogenic activity in autism.
Autism affects males more often than females. This is likely to be true even after taking into account under-diagnosis of females with Asperger Syndrome. One candidate biological mechanism for this is prenatal sex steroid hormones, that shape brain development, which themselves are under genetic control and have epigenetic properties. In this lecture I summarize work from our lab from 4 lines of evidence: (1) Testing if one sex steroid hormone, testosterone, measured in the womb is associated with individual differences in typical children’s language and social development, attention to detail and narrow interests, autistic traits, and brain structure and function. (2) Testing if elevated prenatal sex steroid levels are associated with autism itself. (3) Testing if proxies of prenatal sex steroid levels in people with autism are also atypical. (4) Testing if post-natal sex steroid hormones in autism are elevated. These studies implicate a specific biological pathway (the Δ4 sex steroid pathway) as one important factor in the aetiology of autism. A recent animal model testing this theory is discussed, and the ethics of translating these findings is considered.