Previous studies have shown that autism occurs much more frequently in boys than in girls. Girls also appear to be more resilient to developing autism. However, researchers haven’t been able to discern why until now.
A new study by Yale researchers found that autism in children develops differently in the brain than in girls. They also found that girls with autism have more genetic mutations than boys. This implies that girls are more resistant to the disorder and require more “genetic hits” to develop it.
The study was published in the April 16 issue of the journal. Brain.
“We know very little about how autism develops in the brain,” said Dr. Abha Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “It’s important to be able to land in places where dysfunction could arise because that gives us more traction where to look in the brain. We need to be precise about this. “
Other research collaborators included Dr. Allison Jack of George Mason University and Dr. Kevin Pelphrey of the University of Virginia Brain Institute. The Yale team also included Catherine Sullivan, a research assistant in pediatrics.
Facts and statistics about autism
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to interact, communicate, and learn. In most cases, genetics play a huge role in how likely a child is to develop autism. Children born to older parents are also at higher risk for autism.
- In 2020, the CDC reported that about 1 in 54 children in the US are diagnosed with autism, based on 2016 data.
- 1 in 34 children identified with autism
- 1 in 144 girls identified with autism
- This means that autism in in boys it occurs four times more than in girls.
- Autism can be diagnosed at age 2, but many children are diagnosed after age 4.
- 31% of children with ASD also have an intellectual disability (an IQ below 70); 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85) and 44% have IQ scores in the average range or above average (IQ> 85).
- Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups equally.
- Minority children tend to be diagnosed later and less frequently.
- Early treatment gives children the best chance for healthy development. While interventions help, there is currently no cure for autism.
Autism rates have risen in recent decades and scientists have yet to find the exact cause of this. However, maybe This studio on how autism in boys presents differently than in girls will lead to answers. The team found that even when controlling for factors such as children’s tendency to express symptoms more, the discrepancy remained.
Dr. Gupta says that most of the studies done in the past on autism have focused primarily on male samples. This would explain why, until now, researchers have not been able to explain the discrepancy in autism rates between boys and girls.
For the study, the researchers took samples from boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 17. The study included 45 girls and 47 boys with autism, 45 and 47 typically developing girls and boys, respectively.
The research team analyzed the brains of young people with and without ASD to determine how they process human emotions. Children with autism have a hard time reading social cues and reactions from others. Previous studies on autism in children uncovered key differences in one part of the brains of children with autism.
In children with ASD, the region of the brain called the posterior superior temporal sulcus seemed less sensitive. This part of the brain helps process auditory and visual stimuli and is most active in children without autism. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers confirmed this finding from previous studies on autism in children.
Key findings of the study
However, in brain scans performed on girls, they found that autism affected a different region of the brain. They found that the striatum, which controls cognition, reward, and coordinated movements, works differently in girls with autism.
Additionally, they found that girls with autism had more genetic mutations, called copy number variations, in their striatum. This implies that girls require a greater number of genetic mutations to develop autism. Using genetic analysis, the researchers wanted to dig even deeper into these key differences.
They analyzed data from the Simons Simplex Collection, a genetic database that includes more than 2,000 families who have a child with autism. After examining the data, the researchers found that it confirmed their initial findings. They found that girls with autism had a higher number of genetic mutations in the striatum area of the brain.
Gupta says the findings provide insight into brain differences in girls with autism. It also helps researchers better understand the “female protective effect,” which makes girls less likely to develop autism.
“The hope, the vision, is that we can somehow manage these protective effects to better understand what makes some people more resistant to developing autism and leverage that in some way in potential treatment targets,” he said.
Gupta said she and her team would conduct further studies to gather more information. They will then use whole genome sequencing to look for other important patterns in the subjects’ brains. They will also study the connectivity of the brain to understand the differences more clearly between autism in boys and girls.
A pioneering study from Yale University found key differences in the brains of boys and girls with autism. They found that girls appear to be more resilient to developing autism, which requires more genetic mutations to receive a diagnosis. In girls, autism mainly affects the brain region of the striatum, while autism in boys affects the posterior superior temporal sulcus.
This difference in the brains of boys and girls with autism may explain the discrepancy in autism rates. While more research is needed in the future, this finding marks a breakthrough in our understanding of autism.