Research finds autism develops differently in girls than in boys

The research has combined cutting-edge brain imaging with genetic research to better understand the effects of ASDs in girls.

Washington: New study results shed light on how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manifests in girls’ brains. This prompted scientists to warn that conclusions drawn from studies conducted primarily on boys should not be considered valid for girls.

Research published in the journal Brain found that there is a significant difference in the genes and “genetic burden” that underlie the disease in girls and boys. They also identified specific ways in which the brains of girls with ASD respond to social cues such as facial expressions and gestures differently than those of girls without ASD.

“This new study provides us with a roadmap for understanding how to better match current and future evidence-based interventions to the brain and underlying genetic profiles so that we can get the right treatment for the right person,” said Principal Investigator Kevin Pelphrey, PhD. , a senior autism expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the AVU’s Brain Institute.

Pelphrey added, “It advances our understanding of autism at large by revealing that there may well be different causes for boys than for girls; it helps us understand heterogeneity within and between genders. »Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

The new knowledge comes from a large research project, led by Pelphrey at UVA, which brings together Yale expertise; Harvard; University of California, Los Angeles; Children’s National; University of Colorado, Denver; and Seattle Children’s. At UVA, key players included both Pelphrey, from the Department of Neurology at the Faculty of Medicine and the Curry School of Education and Human Development, and John D. Van Horn, PhD, from the School of Data Science and the Department of AVU psychology.

The research has combined cutting-edge brain imaging with genetic research to better understand the effects of ASDs in girls. These effects have remained poorly explored as the condition is four times more common in boys.

Pelphrey and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity during social interactions. They found that girls with autism used different sections of their brains than girls who did not have ASD. And, more surprisingly, the difference between girls with and without autism was not the same as the difference in brain seen when comparing boys with and without autism, revealing different brain mechanisms at play in autism based the sex of a person.

Likewise, the underlying genetic contributors were quite different, the researchers found. The girls had a much greater number of rare variants of active genes during the early development of a region of the brain known as the striatum. This suggests that the effects on the striatum may contribute to the risk of ASD in girls. (Scientists believe that a section of the striatum called the putamen is involved in the interpretation of both social interaction and language.) “The convergence of brain imaging and genetic data provides us with important new insight into the causes of autism in girls, ”Pelphrey said.

“We hope that by working with our colleagues at UVA Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR), we will be able to use our findings to generate new treatment strategies tailored to girls with autism.

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