Study Shows Differences in Brain Regions between Boys and Girls with Autism

A recent research study has shown that there are significant differences between the brains of males and females with Autism. The findings suggest that the differences in brain structure may underlie Autism’s gender bias. Autism in boys is approximately four times more common than it is in girls. This leads researchers to believe that females are somehow more protected against developing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and that boys are more vulnerable to genetic mutations.

Recent data that was collected by the MIND Institute of UC Davis suggests that the protection against Autism development in females may originate from brain structure. The brain regions that differ between girls with Autism and female controls also distinguish neurotypical girls from neurotypical boys. Christine Nordahl, Professor of Psychiatry at UC Davis, states, “These regions may not be associated with Autism severity, but rather with some compensatory or adaptive function.”

(image credit: Julia Yellow)

Researchers at the MIND Institute studied the brains of young children around the age of three. The study group consisted of 22 females with Autism and 27 female controls of the same age, as well as 134 boys with Autism and 54 male controls of the same age. The children with ASD in the study had similar levels of Autism severity. Researchers scanned the brains of each child as they slept, analyzing their brain structure.

Researchers primarily focused on the cortex, the outer layer of the brain, which is responsible for many high-order functions. They divided the cortex into 68 regions and looked for size differences of these regions between the groups they studied. As expected, the boys and girls with ASD had multiple changes visible in particular brain regions relevant to Autism. However, the changes within the boys with Autism were found to be significantly different than those in girls.

The study states that female brains showed significant changes in the volume of the left superior temporal gyrus, which is a region critical for language processing. In boys, they saw enlargement in the left anterior cingulate, linked to empathy and other emotions.

Although more research needs to be done to establish the reasons why boys may be more vulnerable to developing Autism, this study helps build a foundation of how brain differences between males and females can lead to the high prevalence of Autism in one gender over the other. Researchers at the MIND Institute hypothesize that the brains of girls with Autism show strong evidence of compensatory mechanisms, while males do not.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing further Autism research and scientific advances on July 1st in NYC. Speakers include Dr. Eric Hollander, Chairman of the ICare4Autism Advisory Council, and Director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Program, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Hollander will be giving a fascinating presentation on personalized therapeutics for ASD, as well as lead a question and answer session. To hear Dr. Hollander speak, please select tickets here.  Early bird ticket specials are still available, so there’s no greater time than now to register! This is an Autism conference that you will not want to miss!

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