APR 03, 2020 3:29 PM PDT

Why Autism is More Common in Boys than Girls

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified how a change in a single amino acid may be linked to symptoms of autism. In particular, they noted that this variation may explain why autism is more common in boys than girls. 

For their study, the researchers compared two NLGN4 genes, responsible for creating and maintaining synapses- the communicatory points between neurons. While NLGN4X is present in the female X chromosome, NLGN4Y is present in the male Y chromosome. While females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y chromosome, up until now, it has been thought that both NLGN4 types encode proteins that are 97% identical and function equally well. 

However, upon examining the genes more closely, the researchers found that the proteins encoded by these genes operate differently. In particular, they noticed that the proteins encoded by NLGN4Y are less able to move to the cell surface in cells located in the brain, and are thus unable to construct and maintain synapses. This makes it difficult for neurons to communicate. 

Closely inspecting the NLGN4Y gene, the researchers found that its deficits came from a single amino acid. They also found that the region surrounding NLGN4X is sensitive to mutations that may make it behave similarly to NLGN4Y. This means that, if NLGN4X genes in females undergo a mutation that hampers their ability to encode for proteins, its deficit is likely to be compensated by the function of the other, functioning NLGN4X gene. However, in males, should their NLGN4X gene be mutated to the point of producing faulty proteins, its function cannot be supplemented by NLGN4Y. 

For the researchers, this means that, should mutations occur in the areas of NLGN4X that affect its ability to synthesize proteins, autism-related symptoms including intellectual deficits may occur. The researchers thus concluded that in this case, the inability of a fully-operational NLGN4X gene to compensate a diabled NLGN4Y gene may explain why males tend to be at a higher risk of developing autism than females. 

A previously unknown phenomenon, Thien A. Nhuyen, the lead author of the study, said, “We really need to look at NLGN4X and NLGN4Y more carefully...Mutations in NLGN4X can lead to widespread and potentially very severe effects in brain function, and the role of NLGNY is still unclear.”


Sources: Technology Networks, Cell

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
FEB 18, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 18, 2020
The Wearable that Spots Early Signs of Alzheimer's
Since 2000, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s has increased by almost 90%. With an estimated 5.8 million Americans suf ...
FEB 22, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 22, 2020
Does Your Gut Bacteria Influence Your Personality?
A researcher from Oxford University, UK, has found that certain gut bacteria may be able to influence our personality tr ...
MAR 16, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAR 16, 2020
Cannabis Reduces ADHD Med Use in New Study
As the legalization of medical cannabis increases in the U.S. and around the globe, its effects on a variety of conditio ...
APR 26, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 26, 2020
Researchers Observe Vocal Learning in Bats
Bats have garnered oodles of attention in previous weeks as they’ve been identified as potential carriers of the i ...
MAY 08, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 08, 2020
Centenarians are Sharper than Those 25 Years Younger
Researchers at the University of New South Wales have found that those aged 95 and older have more activity between the ...
MAY 22, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 22, 2020
Exercise Boosts Memory and Blood Flow in Brain
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have mapped how the brain changes after one year of aerobic exercise. In p ...
Loading Comments...