Background: Prenatal exposure to increased androgens has been suggested as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This hypothesis has been examined by measurement of steroids in amniotic fluid, cord blood, saliva, and blood with mixed results. Methods: To provide an orthogonal measure of fetal exposure, this study used meconium, the first stool of a newborn, to measure prenatal androgen exposure from infants in the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI). EARLI is a familial-enriched risk cohort that enrolled pregnant mothers who already had a child with an ASD diagnosis. In the younger child, we investigated the association between meconium unconjugated (u) and total (t) concentrations of major androgens testosterone (T), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and androstenedione (A4), and ASD-related traits at 12 and 36 months of age. Traits were measured at 12 months with Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) and at 36 months with total score on the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). One hundred and seventy children had meconium and AOSI, 140 had meconium and SRS, and 137 had meconium and both AOSI and SRS. Results: Separate robust linear regressions between each of the log-transformed androgens and log-transformed SRS scores revealed three-way interaction between sex of the child, sex of the proband, and testosterone concentration. In the adjusted analyses, t-T, u-A4, and u-DHEA (P ≤ 0.01) were positively associated with AOSI scores, while u-T (P = 0.004) and u-DHEA (P = 0.007) were positively associated with SRS total score among females with female probands (n = 10). Additionally, higher concentrations of u-T (P = 0.01) and t-T (P = 0.01) predicted higher SRS total score in males with male probands (n = 63). Limitations Since we explored three-way interactions, this resulted in a limited sample size for some analyses. This study was from an enriched-risk cohort which may limit generalizability, and this study used ASD-assessment scales as outcomes instead of diagnostic categories. Additionally, the novel use of meconium in this study limits the ability to compare the results in this cohort to others due to the paucity of research on meconium. Conclusions: This study supports the utility of meconium for studies of endogenous fetal metabolism and suggests the sex of older siblings with autism should be considered as a biological variable in relevant studies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Developmental Biology
- Psychiatry and Mental health