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New Study Suggests Changes in Protein May Explain Why Autism is More Common in Boys than in Girls

Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though the exact cause of this discrepancy remains unknown. Through a new study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that a single amino acid change may offer insight into why autism is so much more prevalent in boys. According to a report on the study by, the researchers compared two NLGN4 genes, which play an important role in creating and maintain synapses, the communication points between neurons. Until now, it had been assumed that the NLGN4X and NLGN4Y genes, which encode proteins that 97% identical, functioned just as well in neurons. However, the researchers found that the proteins encoded by these genes showed different functions. According to’s report, the NLGN4Y protein is “less able to move to the cell surface in brain cells and is therefore unable to assemble and maintain synapses, making it difficult for neurons to send signals to one another.” The researchers found that the problems in the NLGN4Y protein were due to a single amino acid. In females, when one of the NLGN4X proteins has a mutation, the other one can often compensate. In males, however, diseases can occur when there are mutations in NLGN4X, since there is no compensation from NLGN4Y. “The knowledge about these proteins will help doctors treating patients with mutations in NLGN4X better understand their symptoms,” Dr. Katherine Roche, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was quoted as saying. Source:


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