A research team led by Manish Kumar Tripathi, a neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has published findings challenging the idea that males are more susceptible to autism than females. The team studied the condition in a mouse model and found that both male and female brains have equal chances of developing the condition.
Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how individuals learn, communicate, behave and interact with others. While autism is diagnosable at nearly any age, it is typically classified as a “developmental disorder” because its symptoms usually appear in the first two years of an affected individual’s life.
Past studies have found that males are much more likely to develop autism compared to females at an estimated rate of about four males for every one female. Some research has found a smaller discrepancy of 3:1 or 2:1.
Autism is seen, diagnosed and treated primarily as a male disorder, and most of the diagnostic criteria are largely based on how the condition presents in male subjects. However, the recent Hebrew University of Jerusalem study found that both males and females are equally prone to developing autism and provided additional evidence that current data “significantly underestimates” autism rates in females.
Team lead and neuroscientist Manish Kumar Tripathi says the findings underscore the urgent need for male and female participants in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) studies.
This recent study adds to the small but growing body of research questioning whether established understandings of autism spectrum disorder have resulted in a feedback loop that excludes girls and women who qualify for an autism diagnosis. Boys are more likely to be referred for an autism diagnosis, based on mostly male-centric diagnostic criteria, experts say. That has resulted in the aforementioned autism diagnosis rate of four boys for every girl. This, in turn, makes boys the go-to subjects for autism research, locking girls out of the research process and further proliferating the idea that autism mostly affects boys.
Researchers behind the recent study used mouse model lineages with human-based mutations to study synaptic impairment in two autism spectrum disorder models. Interestingly, the research team discovered no difference between brains of females and males that suggested increased susceptibility to autism.
Some past studies have found that girls typically have lower autism rates because the “female protective effect” shields them from presenting traditionally autistic traits. Other studies suggest that girls have higher biological resistance to autism because they require a greater number of mutations to present autistic traits.
For companies that are focusing on developing new treatments for autism spectrum disorder, such as PaxMedica Inc. (NASDAQ: PXMD), the revelation that the condition is as likely to affect females as it does males widens the market that they are likely to address if their R&D efforts are successful.
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