Autism develops differently in girls than in boys, new research shows

Autism develops differently in girls than in boys, new research shows

The conclusions drawn from studies conducted primarily in boys should not be assumed to hold true for girls, as suggested by a new study that shed some light on how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manifests in the brains of girls.

This new study provides us with a roadmap for understanding how to better match current and future evidence-based interventions with underlying brain and genetic profiles.

Genetic difference

The researchers found that there is a significant difference in the genes and "genetic makeup" that underpin the disease in girls and boys. They also identified specific ways that the brains of girls with ASD respond differently to social cues such as facial expressions and gestures than those of girls without ASD .

The research combined cutting-edge brain imaging with genetic research to better understand the effects of ASD in girls. Those effects have remained little explored because the condition is four times more common in children .

Specifically, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine brain activity during social interactions. They thus discovered that autistic girls used different sections of their brain than girls without ASD. And, most surprisingly, the difference between girls with and without autism was not the same as the difference in the brain observed when comparing boys with and without autism, revealing different brain mechanisms at play in autism according to gender of the person

Similarly, the underlying genetic contributors were quite different. The girls had a much higher number of rare variants of genes active during early development of a brain region known as the striatum. This suggests that effects on the striatum may contribute to the risk of ASD in girls.