Potential Sex Differences Relative to Autism Spectrum Disorder and Metals

Aisha S. Dickerson, Ran S. Rotem, MacKinsey K.A. Christian, Vy T. Nguyen, Aaron J. Specht

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Purpose of review: This study aims to summarize the current body of literature on the relationship between various toxic metals exposures (i.e., aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with a focus on potential sex differences in these associations. Recent findings: Sex differences in ASD diagnosis and mutagenic effects of toxic exposures indicate that sex differences may play a major part in the causal relationship of any potential associations seen; however, we were only able to find three studies that reported on sex differences in observed associations with toxic metals exposure and ASD. We also found several studies investigating associations between ASD and metals exposures, including 11 on aluminum, 6 on antimony, 15 on arsenic, 5 on beryllium, 17 on cadmium, 11 on chromium, 25 on lead, 14 on manganese, and 13 on nickel with markers of exposure in hair, urine, blood, teeth, fingernails, and air pollution. Results for each metal were conflicting, but studies on cadmium and lead yielded the highest proportion of studies with positive results (72% and 36%, respectively). Summary: Based on our examination of existing literature, the current evidence warrants a considerable need for evaluations of sex differences in future studies assessing the association between metals exposures and ASD. Additionally, failure to account for potential sex differences could result in bias and misinterpretation of exposure-disease relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-414
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent environmental health reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Environmental exposures
  • Markers of exposure
  • Metabolism
  • Metals
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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