A new study is coming up with some interesting ideas behind why autism could be more prevalent in young men than young women.
Many women with autism appear more likely to have a brain anatomy that's normally seen in males the study has found. Recent studies have found that it could cause structural differences in the male’s brain which make autism more common in young men. The study found that young women were up to three times more likely to be on the autism spectrum if their brain anatomy resembled that which is normally found in young men.
“Specifically, these females had much thicker than normal cortical areas, a trait generally seen in male brains,” said Dr. Matthew Lorber, who is the acting director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“This study is certainly not conclusive, but it does propose a reason why autism is found so much more frequently in males,” said Lorber, who wasn’t directly involved with the study.
From results collected from the study, it could mean that the way the male brain is structured is directly linked to the development of autism. The study couldn’t, however, prove that these anatomical differences were directly linked to the cause of autism. The information used for the study found stated that autism is between two and five times more common in men than women. Other studies conducted into autism show that men are at a much higher risk of developing autism than women.
To test their theory, a team led by Christine Ecker, of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, conducted brain scans of 98 right-handed adults with autism. The researchers also scanned the brains of 98 neurologically healthy people for comparison purposes.
The scans focused on the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the gray outer layer of neural tissue in the brain. This thickness typically varies between men and women, and may also be altered in people with autism, the researchers explained.
They found that men with autism had similar brain anatomy to those that didn’t have autism. However, the brain anatomy of women with autism more often resembled the brain anatomy of men.
Mathew Pletcher, vice president and head of genomic discovery at Autism Speaks, stated, “This work suggests that changes in specific features of the brain may be associated with autism in some females.” He also stated “these findings give more credibility that biology of the brain plays a major role in the development of autism spectrum disorder. It also suggests that when trying to diagnose autism spectrum disorder, it might make sense to examine the cortical regions in the brain.”
The study hasn’t found any new insights on how to directly treat autism. However, understanding how the brain anatomy relates to the disorder could help scientists in the future working on any treatments.The new study was published online Feb. 8 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.