Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be related to the altered male genes during the early brain development which increases the risk of autism in males, according to a new study conducted by research team at the University of Strasbourg, France. The findings of the study are published in Biological Psychiatry. The identified male key genes regulated by testosterone generates an important insight into how male hormones can contribute to ASD.
The findings provide a clue as to why ASD affects boys about four times as much as girls. Male fetuses produce androgens during critical stages of brain development when cells divide and develop into neurons. The researchers showed that androgens increase the spread of cells and prevent them from death, which could predispose boys to ASD by contributing to the excessive brain growth that occurs in people with ASD during the first years of life.
"Understanding the mechanisms for the male preponderance for autism is like pulling on a lose thread. It could help to 'unravel' important mechanisms contributing to autism risk," said John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. Identifying a role of androgens in this risk could be important for prevention or the development of potential treatments for ASD.
"These effects of male hormones may therefore contribute to the increased sensitivity of the male brain to develop ASD when also exposed to other genetic or environmental factors," said Dr. Piton, suggesting that the biological explanation for the sex-specific inequality of ASD points to a predisposition in males, rather than a protective effect in females.
In addition to providing a clue into the male susceptibility to ASD, Dr. Piton says that the list of genes that were altered by androgens in the study might be useful to identify new genes that might be involved in ASD or in other diseases that occur more often in males.