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Polycystic ovary syndrome and autism: A test of the prenatal sex steroid theory.

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Cherskov, Adriana 
Pohl, Alexa 
Zhang, Heping 
Payne, Rupert A 


Elevated levels of prenatal testosterone may increase the risk for autism spectrum conditions (autism). Given that polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is also associated with elevated prenatal testosterone and its precursor sex steroids, a hypothesis from the prenatal sex steroid theory is that women with PCOS should have elevated autistic traits and a higher rate of autism among their children. Using electronic health records obtained from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) in the UK between 1990 and 2014, we conducted three matched case-control studies. Studies 1 and 2 examined the risk of PCOS in women with autism (n = 971) and the risk of autism in women with PCOS (n = 26,263), respectively, compared with matched controls. Study 3 examined the odds ratio (OR) of autism in first-born children of women with PCOS (n = 8588), matched to 41,127 controls. In Studies 1 and 2 we found increased prevalence of PCOS in women with autism (2.3% vs. 1.1%; unadjusted OR: 2.01, 95% CI: 1.22-3.30) and elevated rates of autism in women with PCOS (0.17% vs. 0.09%, unadjusted OR: 1.94 CI: 1.37-2.76). In Study 3 we found the odds of having a child with autism were significantly increased, even after adjustment for maternal psychiatric diagnoses, obstetric complications, and maternal metabolic conditions (unadjusted OR: 1.60, 95% CI: 1.28-2.00; adjusted OR: 1.35, 95% CI: 1.06-1.73). These studies provide further evidence that women with PCOS and their children have a greater risk of autism.



Adolescent, Adult, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Case-Control Studies, Child, Female, Humans, Logistic Models, Male, Mothers, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Risk Assessment, Testosterone, United Kingdom, Young Adult

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Transl Psychiatry

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Autism Research Trust (unknown)
Medical Research Council (G0600977)