Understanding Early Life Hormonal Exposures and Risks for Neurodevelopmental Conditions

Neurodevelopmental conditions, particularly autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), exhibit a significant sex disparity, with males being 2-4 times more likely to be diagnosed than females.

This observation suggests that factors involved in sexual differentiation, particularly sex hormones during early developmental stages, might play a crucial role in the onset and progression of these conditions. On the other hand, many of the sex differences in the prevalence of neurodevelopmental conditions may also be influenced by social differences in terms of the recognition and diagnosis of neurodevelopmental conditions in females compared to males.  


Our research program examines the impact of early life hormonal exposures, focusing specifically on sex hormones, on the risk of developing neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD. Our goal is to rigorously test how sex hormones, such as estradiol and testosterone, during prenatal periods might influence the development of neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as to understand the relationship between maternal conditions associated with hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, and children’s risk of different neurodevelopmental conditions. 

All of our studies are nested within Psychiatry Sweden and rely upon large-scale population-based registers that provide comprehensive information on developmental outcomes, health records, and exposure histories for the Swedish population. We also incorporate biological samples such as blood samples collected during pregnancy to measure hormone levels and investigate their associations with neurodevelopmental conditons. By integrating register-based data with biological samples, we aim to understand whether hormonal influences during key developmental windows may affect neurodevelopmental outcomes. Our goal is to contribute to the broader understanding of the complex interplay between hormonal environments and neurodevelopment. 

In our most recent study, we reported that maternal levels of testosterone during pregnancy were not in fact associated with children’s risk of autism. However, we observed that low estradiol levels were associated with increased risks, as was elevated 17-hydroxyprogesterone. For more detail, refer to our recent publication in Biological Psychiatry.


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Renee Gardner

Principal Researcher


Maternal Steroid Hormone Levels in Early Pregnancy and Autism in the Offspring: A Population-Based, Nested Case-Control Study.
Kosidou K, Karlsson H, Arver S, Bhasin S, Dalman C, Gardner RM
Biol Psychiatry 2024 May;():

Maternal hirsutism and autism spectrum disorders in offspring.
Lee BK, Arver S, Widman L, Gardner RM, Magnusson C, Dalman C, Kosidou K
Autism Res 2017 Sep;10(9):1544-1546

Maternal Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Risk for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in the Offspring.
Kosidou K, Dalman C, Widman L, Arver S, Lee BK, Magnusson C, Gardner RM
Biol Psychiatry 2017 Nov;82(9):651-659

Maternal polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring: a population-based nationwide study in Sweden.
Kosidou K, Dalman C, Widman L, Arver S, Lee BK, Magnusson C, Gardner RM
Mol Psychiatry 2016 Oct;21(10):1441-8



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