In an article published on January 9, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Biological Psychiatry, Angelique Quartier and colleagues from the University of Strasbourg, France, presented in vitro evidence suggesting that prenatal exposure to androgens may disrupt brain development, leaving males more susceptible “to develop neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability.”
The researchers studied gene expression in human neural stem cells to investigate gene targets of androgens. They identified a set of ASD-related genes which were “reproducibly regulated by different androgens in different genetic backgrounds,” and demonstrated the involvement of the androgen receptor in the regulation of these genes. Further, androgens were found to “increase human neural stem cell proliferation and survival in nutrient-deprived culture conditions.”
The authors suggested that their findings could help explain the known predisposition of males to autism. Currently, about four times more males than females are being diagnosed with this disease. Prenatal exposure to the male hormone testosterone (an androgen) may result in prolonged survival of neuronal progenitor cells. This in turn could be the reason for the excessive brain growth known to occur in people with ASD during childhood. In addition, androgens regulated the expression of the key genes related to ASD. Due to these actions of androgens, the brain of boys could become more susceptible to developing ASD, making it more sensitive to the influence of other accompanying factors, such as genetic predisposition or environmental exposure.
Some synthetic chemicals contaminating food, including some food contact chemicals, have also been shown to interact with androgen receptor. Most commonly, an antiandrogenic activity is observed (FPF reported). However, several extracts of paper/board food contact materials have also been observed to activate the androgen receptor (FPF reported).
Science Daily (February 7, 2018). “Male susceptibility to autism linked to male hormones in early-stage brain development.”
Quartier, A., et al. (2018). “Genes and pathways regulated by androgens in human neural cells, potential candidates for the male excess in autism spectrum disorder.” Biological Psychiatry (published January 9, 2018).