Fetal steroid hormones: a longitudinal study
In the Cambridge Child Development Study we have been testing if fetal testosterone, measured in amniotic fluid obtained via amniocentesis, is associated with later psychological and neural development postnatally. We have conducted studies of typical individual differences and found that fetal testosterone is inversely associated with social development, language development, and empathy; and that fetal testosterone is postively associated with systemizing, attention to detail, and number of autistic traits. We are collaborating with colleagues in the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, and demonstrated elevated levels of fetal testosterone and the related sex steroid hormones in the delta-4 pathway in those who later receive a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition. The rationale for testing fetal testosterone and the sex steroids comes from animal studies which suggest these hormones, prenatally, masculinize the brain. Given the sex ratio in autism and Asperger Syndrome, and the masculinized cognitive profile reported in studies of empathy and systemizing in people with these diagnoses, fetal sex steroids may be an important candidate biological mechanism to help understand the phenotype.