Clues to Why Autism Strikes More Males
Girls seem to tolerate more genetic mutations than boys do before showing symptoms of disorder
The study authors pointed out that autism affects four boys for every one girl. The ratio increases to seven-to-one when looking at high-functioning autism cases.
It's an interesting study, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.
"It's not an easy study to read, but certainly the take-away suggests it tries to lend further support to the assumption that the ratio of males to females [who have autism] is affected by genetic vulnerabilities -- that it has a genetic underpinning," Adesman said.
What do the findings mean for parents and patients?
Adesman said there are no immediate benefits, but the knowledge can help direct future research.
"This isn't going to lead to a breakthrough in treatment, but from a clinical standpoint it may help researchers and academics understand why it is that developmental disorders seem to be more common in boys than girls," he noted.
The new research also reinforces that genetic differences -- or vulnerabilities -- aren't limited to sex chromosomes, Adesman added.
"The presumption has been, 'Well gee, boys have a Y chromosome and girls don't, so are there problems with the Y chromosome that explain it?'" Adesman noted.
"The bottom line is that there are a lot of different genetic abnormalities and atypicalities that result in developmental disorders in children and adults," Adesman explained. "Women seem to be a little more resilient in terms of being able to have minor abnormalities without having a developmental problem."
Jacquemont agreed that the team's discovery opens the door for new avenues of study.
The findings provide ideas "for deciphering the issue further," said Jacquemont. "One study that might be helpful would be trying to understand what are the symptoms that appear a lot faster in males than females. There are a lot of alleys that could be explored."