Research finds that autism develops differently in girls than boys

April 19, 2021 13:34 IST

Washington [US], April 19 (ANI): Findings of a new study shed light on how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manifests in women’s brain. This prompted scientists to warn that conclusions drawn from studies conducted primarily on boys should not be assumed to be true of girls.
Research published in the journal Brain found that there is a significant difference in the genes and “genetic burden” underlying the condition among girls and boys. They also identified specific ways in which the brains of women with ASD respond differently to social cues such as facial expressions and gestures than do women without ASD.
“This new study provides us with a roadmap for understanding how to better match current and future evidence-based interventions with the underlying brain and genetic profiles so we can get the right treatment for ‘ the right person, “said lead researcher Kevin Pelphrey, PhD. , a top autism specialist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the UVA Brain Institute.
Pelphrey added, “This broadly develops our understanding of autism by revealing that there may be different causes for boys versus girls; this helps us to understand the heterogeneity within and across sexes.”
Understanding Autism-Spectrum Disorder

The new insights come from a groundbreaking research project, led by Pelphrey at UVA, which brings together expertise from Yale; Harvard; University of California, Los Angeles; National Children; University of Colorado, Denver; and Seattle Children. At UVA, key players included Pelphrey, the School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology and the Curry School of Education and Human Development, and John D. Van Horn, PhD, of the School of Data Science and UVA’s Department of Psychology.
The research combined cutting-edge brain imaging with genetic research to better understand the effects of ASD in women. Those effects have continued to be poorly explored because the condition is four times more common in boys.
Pelphrey and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity during social interactions. They found that autistic women used different parts of their brains than women who did not have ASD. And, most surprisingly, the difference between girls with and without autism was not the same as the brain difference seen when comparing boys with and without autism, revealing different brain mechanisms at play in autism depending on gender .
Similarly, the underlying genetic contributors were vastly different, the researchers found. Women had much larger numbers of rare variants of genes that were active during the early development of a brain region called the striatum. This suggests that the effects on the striatum may contribute to ASD risk in women. (Scientists believe that part of the striatum called the putamen is about interpreting social interaction and language.)
“The convergence of brain imaging and genetic data gives us important new insights into the causes of autism in women,” said Pelphrey. “We hope that by working with our colleagues at UVA’s Transformative Autism Research (STAR), we will be able to leverage our findings to produce new treatment strategies tailored for autistic women.” (ANI)