Hormonal influences

Genetic markers

Studies that focus on the biological markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) complement those conducted on behavioural markers. Charting biological markers, such as physical characteristics, hormones, genetic features or brain function, will not only help in facilitating a more objective, and earlier, diagnosis of the ASDs but, importantly, will enhance our understanding of the biological basis of these conditions.

The hormones Cortisol and Oxytocin have been implicated in ASD for some time now as regulators of responses to stressful situations. We are contributing to research that seeks to investigate whether the levels of these hormones vary in individuals with ASD and related disorders, as compared with their non-affected peers. In another study we, together with our colleagues from other labs, are studying the impact of higher levels of prenatal androgen exposure on behavioural and physical ASD traits.

Current studies

  1. Serotonergic systems, anxiety and insomnia in a model of autism spectrum disorder.
    Researchers:
    Matthew Hale (School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University), John Lesku (School of Life Sciences, La Trobe University), Amanda Richdale, Stephen Kent (School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University) & Cheryl Dissanayake
    Funding: La Trobe University Research Focus Area 'Living with Disease' grant
  2. Prenatal and early postnatal risk factors in ASD.
    Researchers:
    Andrew Whitehouse (Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia), Murray Maybery (University of Western Australia), Cheryl Dissanayake, Martha Hickey (Royal Women's Hospital, University of Melbourne) & Craig Pennell (University of Western Australia)
    Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC)
  3. Methylation markers for early diagnosis and treatment of Fragile X Syndrome and related conditions.
    Researchers:
    Howard Slater (Murdoch Children Research Institute), David Godler (Murdoch Children Research Institute), David Amor (Murdoch Children Research Institute), Cheryl Dissanayake & Minh Bui (University of Melbourne)
    Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC)