According to the group Autism Speaks, boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and there is still no clear answer as to why, although one research team from the University of New Hampshire has made some inroads towards an explanation.
While gene mutations, additions and deletions have long been associated with autism, this group is looking in a different area, protein regulation in the brain.
“Protein regulates neuro-development, regulates the synapse’s formation,” said Dr. Mao Chen, an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at the University of New Hampshire, “and in autistic patients if the regulation goes wrong - some synapses may be too tight, other synapses may be too weak, [an] autism boy may be good at one thing [but] may not be good at social communication.”
Working on mouse models, Dr. Chen and his team identified more than 200 proteins that are more tightly regulated in females than in males, and therefore may protect the female brain from developing autism. He cautioned this is still just one study, and more research is needed, but he’s hopeful it could one day lead to the development of a drug that could manipulate or rectify that protein regulation.