University of Otago research is shedding new light on
autism and could help lead the way to eventual new therapies.
Prof Ian McLennan, of the university anatomy department, is a
world leader in some aspects of research involving
brain-linked sex hormones, including Anti-Mullerian Hormone
He discussed some of his findings in one of several talks on
neurological conditions and their treatment and care given at
the Otago Museum's Hutton Theatre yesterday, during Brain
He is a member of the Brain Health Research Centre, which is
organising most of the awareness activities with the museum.
In the past, science had understood very little about how the
human brain developed, but brain scans and other research
were now providing more insights, Prof McLennan said.
Many more males than females developed autism spectrum
disorder (ASD), and this disorder was often associated with
''very, very rapid brain growth in the first year of life''.
The hormone AMH was expressed in young boys, and could be
responsible for slowing male development by about 9 months by
the age of 6, compared with girls. AMH was not expressed in
girls until they reached puberty, he said.
If AMH slowed male development, boys with low levels of that
hormone could develop more quickly and be at greater risk of
developing autism, he said.
Otago researchers, including Prof McLennan, were part of
international efforts to piece together the jigsaw puzzle
involved in learning more about autism and other neurological
conditions. More than 10,000 scientific articles had already
been written about aspects of testosterone but little had
been published about AMH and another sex hormone, Inhibin B,
both of which were linked to the severity of symptoms in boys
with ASD, he said.
Under those circumstances, he warned it would be at least 10
years before any AMH-related therapy could become available
for clinical use.