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Autism link to testosterone

09 March 2011

Professor Simon Baron-CohenProfessor Simon Baron-Cohen

Boys could be at higher risk of developing autism because they produce and are exposed to higher levels of testosterone as they develop in their mother’s womb, one of the UK’s leading autism experts will argue in a Cardiff University public lecture (Monday 14th March).

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the University of Cambridge is one of the UK’s leading experts in autism. His lecture will examine how hormones affect how the mind develops - especially how higher levels of testosterone is linked to higher levels of autistic traits.

The lecture, organised jointly by the Society for Neuroscience Wales Chapter and Cardiff University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, is part of Brain Awareness Week – a week of events designed to raise awareness of new and emerging research in neuroscience and the treatment of mental illness.

Speaking ahead of his lecture, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen said: "Autism affects males more often than females. The explanation for this must either lie in diagnostic practice, hormones, genetics, or a mix of all three.

"My lecture will summarise the work we’ve been doing to test this theory – as a result of which we’ve concluded that foetal testosterone is a key factor underlying social development and may play a part in autism."

Professor Baron-Cohen’s research and his lecture will focus on three specific areas. The first area will consider the role of foetal testosterone in later social and communication development and in the development of autistic traits.

Second, the evidence for hormone dysregulation and its role in the development of autism will be considered. Finally, the association between candidate genes that regulate testosterone and autism will be discussed.

His lecture will conclude with a discussion of the evidence about the link between testosterone and autistic traits, focusing on rare medical conditions where foetal testosterone is elevated – such as in conditions like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.

Cardiff University is a leading centre for research into autism. In September 2010, the Wales Autism Research Centre was launched under the Directorship of Professor Sue Leekam.

Professor Leekam said: "We are delighted that autism will be the subject of this year's Cardiff University's public lecture. Professor Baron-Cohen is internationally recognised for his pioneering research examining how hormones affect how the mind develops. His lecture will be of enormous interest to a broad public audience".

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge. He is also Director of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.

As well as examining the foetal testosterone theory of autism, he is also internationally recognised for his early theory that autism involves degrees of ‘mind-blindness ’and his later theory that autism is an extreme form of the ‘male brain’.

The lecture "Do hormones affect how your mind develops? The Foetal Testosterone Theory of Autism " is now fully booked.

Interested members of the public will be able to view the lecture live on the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute website,, at 6.30pm on Monday 14th March 2011.

Please contact Cardiff University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute on 029 20 687906 or e-mail: for any queries regarding this lecture.

Related links

Neuroscience & Mental Health Research Institute