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Why boys are more likely to be autistic

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Why boys are more likely to be autistic

Boys are much more likely than girls to develop autism—and now scientists think they have figured out why.

Girls need to have many more genetic mutations in the brain before they are affected by the disorder, say researchers at Yale School of Medicine.

Boys are four times more likely to suffer from autism, and it’s because they need fewer brain mutations to be vulnerable to the disorder. By comparison, a girl needs “a genetic hit” to be susceptible.

Autism also affects different areas of the brain of boys and girls. The researchers studied the brains of 45 girls and 47 girls with autism and discovered the accepted wisdom that one special area of the brain was affected was only true for boys. In girls, a different region—the striatum, which controls cognition, reward and co-ordinated movement—was more susceptible.

The girls with autism also had many more genetic mutations, known as copy number variations, in the striatum region.

The fact that girls are less susceptible may provide clues that can protect boys. “The hope is that somehow we can manage these protective effects to understand better what makes some people more resilient to developing autism and leverage that somehow into potential targets for treatment,” said Abha Gupta, one of the researchers.

(Source: Brain, April 16, 2021; doi: 10.1093/brain/awab064)

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