Research Article: No relationship between autistic traits and salivary testosterone concentrations in men from the general population

Date Published: June 14, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Diana Weiting Tan, Murray T. Maybery, Michael W. Clarke, Renata Di Lorenzo, Melissa O. Evans, Michael Mancinone, Christina Panos, Andrew J. O. Whitehouse, Marina A. Pavlova.


It is suggested that testosterone may play a part in the higher prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in males compared to females. Previous studies have reported elevated postnatal testosterone levels in children and women with ASD but not in men. We compared levels of salivary testosterone across 67 undergraduate males (Mage 19.5 yrs, SD 1.92) selected for low, mid-range and high levels of autistic traits assessed using the Autism-spectrum Quotient. Analyses revealed no significant differences in testosterone concentrations across the three groups. The current data add to the increasing evidence for the lack of relationship between autistic traits and postnatal levels of testosterone in men.

Partial Text

Testosterone is a biologically potent sex steroid that has masculinising effects on the brain and behaviour [1]. The two- to four-fold increase in the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in males relative to females [2,3] is suggested to be related to heightened testosterone exposure during prenatal life [4]. However, evidence for this relationship is inconclusive. While elevated levels of prenatal testosterone have been found to be linked to more pronounced autistic traits in typically-developing children [5,6], not all studies have identified this link in other neurotypical populations [7,8]. A recent study of autistic and non-autistic boys reported that the two groups had similar levels of prenatal testosterone but the ASD group showed increased steroidogenic activity when the levels of cortisol and steroids involved in the biosynthesis of testosterone were analysed [9].

Eight participants reported oral health issues and were excluded from the analysis due to possible blood contamination in the saliva samples. A final sample of 67 participants were included in the analyses. Chi-square analyses revealed no significant differences in the factors that could interfere with salivary hormone analysis (e.g., caffeine intake) across the three AQ groups (all ps >.05; frequency of factors is provided in the Supporting Information file, S1 Table). Table 1 below provides participants’ demographic information.

The current study built on Takagishi et al. [23] through the use of a constrained age band and a statistically robust quantile-AQ design. Testosterone concentrations did not differ between men with low, mid-range and high levels of autistic traits. Consistent with Takagishi et al., there was no statistically significant correlation of salivary testosterone concentrations with total AQ scores or with any of the AQ subscales.




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