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Why Autism Strikes More Boys than Girls

In recent years, research has ramped up to get to the bottom of the striking disparity between genders when it comes to the incidence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). ASD affects approximately four times as many boys as girls.

In one theory, the PTCHD1 gene on the X chromosome plays a pivotal role. PTCHD1 is a protein coding gene that helps to deliver information to cells during brain development. If it has mutated or is missing altogether, there is an elevated risk of autism or an intellectual disability.

Boys inherit one X chromosome from their mother and one Y chromosome from their father. Girls carry two X chromosomes. If one X chromosome carries a mutated PTCHD1 gene, or is missing it altogether, the second X chromosome provides backup, shielding a girl form ASD. However, the genetic abnormality can still be passed on to a future son.

Other research is examining the role that the brain cortex thickness has on the development of ASD. The cortex is the brain's outer layer that is host to nerves involved in memory, language, thinking, and other complex cognitive functions. Males tend to have thinner cortexes; women generally have thicker ones. One study found that the thinner the cortex, the more susceptible a person was to developing ASD. Women aren't invulnerable to ASD, since some women have thinner cortexes than normal- in other words, more male-like thickness.

The hope with the research is to find ways to diagnose ASD earlier, allowing behavioral therapies to commence sooner, and to let prospective parents know if either one of them carries a defective PTCHD1 gene that may result in autism


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