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Higher testosterone levels associated with increased autism risk

Category: Hormones and Metabolism

Rates of autism are as much as four times higher in males than females. Testosterone testing is helping scientists understand why this is. It may also enable parents to get a glimpse of their child's specific risk of developing the condition.

Researchers from George Washington University recently discovered that male and female sex hormones have opposite effects on a specific gene that has previously been implicated with an increased risk for autism.

Molecular testing revealed that higher levels of testosterone decreased the expression of a gene known as RORA. This gene manufactures proteins that play a role in the development of the cerebellum. Without this gene, some vital parts of the brain do not develop.

"It is well known that males have a higher tendency for autism than females; however, this new research may, for the first time, provide a molecular explanation for why and how this happens," said Valerie Hu, who led the investigation. "This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding some of the biology underlying autism."

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