A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2016 | Number 1, Volume 30

Children of mothers with PCOS may be at increased risk for ASD

Children of mothers with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may be at elevated risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a recent study.

PCOS affects 5 to 15% of women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS over-produce androgens (such as testosterone) that influence the development of male characteristics. 

Kyriaki Kosidou and colleagues conducted a matched case-control study of more than 23,000 individuals with ASD and more than 208,000 controls matched by birth month and year, sex, and region of birth. The researchers report, “Maternal PCOS increased the odds of ASD in the offspring by 59%, after adjustment for confounders.” Children of mothers with both PCOS and obesity (which also raises androgen levels) had an even greater risk of being diagnosed with ASD. 

The researchers suggest that elevated androgens during pregnancy could affect the developing brain and nervous system of a fetus. A number of studies have suggested a link between autism and elevated androgen exposure in utero. 

Senior study author Renee Gardner comments, “It is too early to make specific recommendations to clinicians in terms of care for pregnant women with PCOS, though increased awareness of this relationship might facilitate earlier detection of ASD in children whose mothers have been diagnosed with PCOS.”


“Maternal polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring: a population-based nationwide study in Sweden,” K. Kosidou, C. Dalman, L. Widman, S. Arver, B. K. Lee, C. Magnusson, and R. M. Gardner, Molecular Psychiatry, December 8, 2015 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Renee Gardner, Renee. [email protected].