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Understanding Autism Gender Bias: A Key to Effective Autism Treatment

Researchers slowly but surely uncover reasons for autism gender bias, namely, the fact that the disease is four times more common in males than in females. Understanding why female prevalence is much lower may be a key to developing effective autism treatment. The researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto attributed this to some kind of protective factors in female biology and aimed at discovering them in their study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics

Having analyzed genetic data of more than 1,600 Canadians and Europeans with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the researchers found a family in which four generations of males were affected, while none of females developed ASD. All males with ASD had a high IQ and enjoyed strong verbal skills but experienced problems with social communication. 

The researchers discovered that the SHANK1 gene was involved in the process. The lack of one copy of the gene in male fetuses affected developmental process and lead to autism, while in females this missing gene did not influence development. Altogether, the researchers emphasize, three SHANK genes influence neuron formation and brain processes. 

The researchers estimate the genetic glitches account for 20 percent of autism cases, and SHANK1 gene alone accounts for 0.1 percent of the people with ASD. Though being responsible for the small share of cases, SHANK1 gene can be tested for, and the disorder can be diagnosed at early stages, so that treatment for autism can start as soon as possible.