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Public lecture to examine possible testosterone link with autism

09 March 2011

Boys could be at higher risk of autism than girls because they are exposed to higher testosterone levels in the womb, a leading expert will argue at Cardiff University next week.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the University of Cambridge is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on autism. His public lecture on Monday (March 14) will examine how hormones affect the mind’s development - particularly how higher levels of testosterone link 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.

The week involves a series of events designed to raise awareness of new and emerging research in neuroscience and the treatment of mental illness.

Professor Baron-Cohen explained: "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 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.

He will finish by discussing the evidence for the link between testosterone and autistic traits, focusing on rare medical conditions where foetal testosterone is elevated – in such conditions as 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 fully booked. Members of the public can view the lecture live on Cardiff University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute website,, at 6.30pm on Monday 14th March 2011.


Further information:

Chris Jones
Public Relations
Cardiff University
Tel: 029 20 874731

Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.