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Advances: Female and male ASD brains differ

Medicine@Yale, 2022 - May June
by Ashley P. Taylor


Finding highlights importance of specifically studying ASD in females

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is diagnosed four times as often in males as in females, and researchers have long wondered why. The difference may relate to the fact that ASD affects different parts of the brain in males and females, a Yale-led study suggests.

Previous research highlighted the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), a brain region involved in perceiving movement, as being underactive in people with autism. That clinical research involved mostly male study participants.

To learn about how autism affects males and females differently, Abha Gupta, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, and colleagues studied brain activity in approximately equal numbers of typically developing and autistic females while they watched human movement. The researchers found that the striatum, which is involved in cognition, reward, and movement—and not the STS—was less active in females with ASD than in typically developing females.

This result, published in Brain, highlights the importance of studying ASD in females rather than assuming that what is true for mostly male study populations also applies to females, the authors wrote.