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Elevated levels of growth-related hormones in autism and autism spectrum disorder

Authors

  • James L. Mills,

    1. Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, Bethesda, Maryland, USA,
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  • Mary L. Hediger,

    1. Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, Bethesda, Maryland, USA,
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  • Cynthia A. Molloy,

    1. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,
    2. Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine,
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  • George P. Chrousos,

    1. Reproductive Biology and Medicine Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, DHHS,
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  • Patricia Manning-Courtney,

    1. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,
    2. Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine,
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  • Kai F. Yu,

    1. Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, Bethesda, Maryland, USA,
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  • Mark Brasington,

    1. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,
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  • Lucinda J. England

    1. Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHHS, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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James L. Mills, Room 7B03, 6100 Bldg, DESPR, NICHD, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. Tel.: +1 301 496 5394; Fax: +1 301 402 2084; E-mail: jamesmills@nih.gov

Summary

Objective  Children with autism are known to have larger head circumferences; whether they are above average in height and weight is less clear. Moreover, little is known about growth-related hormone levels in children with autism. We investigated whether children with autism were taller and heavier, and whether they had higher levels of growth-related hormones than control children did.

Design  A case-control study design was employed.

Patients  Boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism (n = 71) and age-matched control boys (n = 59) were evaluated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Measurements  Height, weight and head circumference were measured. Blood samples were assayed for IGF-1 and 2, IGFBP-3, growth hormone binding protein (GHBP) and for dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulphate (DHEAS).

Results  Subjects with autism/ASD had significantly (P = 0·03) greater head circumferences (mean z-score 1·24, SD 1·35) than controls (mean z-score 0·78, SD 0·93). Subjects with autism also had significantly (P = 0·01) greater weights (mean z-score 0·91, SD 1·13) than controls (mean z-score 0·41, SD 1·11). Height did not differ significantly between groups (P = 0·65); subjects with autism/ASD had significantly (P = 0·003) higher body mass indices (BMI) (mean z-score 0·85, SD 1·19) than controls (mean z-score 0·24, SD 1·17). Levels of IGF-1, IGF-2, IGFBP-3 and GHBP in the group with autism/ASD were all significantly higher (all P ≤ 0·0001) than in controls.

Conclusions  Children with autism/ASD had significantly higher levels of many growth-related hormones: IGF-1, IGF-2, IGFBP-3 and GHBP. These findings could help explain the significantly larger head circumferences and higher weights and BMIs seen in these subjects. Future studies should examine the potential role of growth-related hormones in the pathophysiology of autism.

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