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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2007 Aug;67(2):230-7. Epub 2007 Jun 4.

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

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  • 1Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health/DHHS, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.



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.


A case-control study design was employed.


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


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).


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 < or = 0.0001) than in controls.


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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