Nav: Home

UNH researchers identify role gender-biased protein may play in autism

March 11, 2019

DURHAM, N.H. - Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are one step closer to helping answer the question of why autism is four times more common in boys than in girls after identifying and characterizing the connection of certain proteins in the brain to autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

"Our study is the first to look at the gender-biased regulation of proteins in the brain and how they may play a role in affecting abnormal changes in the body that results in autism," said Xuanmao (Mao) Chen, assistant professor of neurobiology. "Our findings point to a new direction for autism research and suggest promising possibilities for creating novel treatment strategies."

In the study, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, the researchers looked at an enzyme called AC3 which is genetically connected to major depressive disorder (MDD), obesity, and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, not much is known about how AC3 functions in the brain. What is known is that many neurodevelopmental disorders or psychiatric diseases, such as depression and autism, exhibit profound differences between males and females, known as sexual dimorphism. For example, females have a higher risk of depression, whereas autism affects more males, with a boy to girl ratio of four to one. The problem is that it is unclear what causes the differences.

The researchers took a closer look at the phosphorylation in the brain, a process when groups of chemicals called phosphates attach to proteins to regulate them, to see which were influenced based on gender. They identified 204 proteins that were more highly regulated in females than in males. Of those, a large percentage (31%) were associated with autism.

"Our results suggest that proteins in the female brain, particularly autism-related proteins, are more tightly regulated than those in the male brain possibly helping to prevent the development of autism in females," said Chen.

The researchers point to evolution for possibly playing a part in how these proteins behave based on the key roles or functions of each sex. The female role has traditionally been multi-tasking several activities like childrearing, caring for the family, the home, and preparing meals whereas male tasks were more specifically focused on functions like hunting and gathering. You can see this highly focused trait in autistic males who are very smart but tend to be fixated on one thing and not interested in, or cannot handle, other social interactions.

Chen says that this research is still in the early phase with mouse models and more studies are needed, but he is hopeful that it may open up a new research direction and one day could possibly lead to a new pharmacological treatment.
-end-
Contributing to these findings are Yuxin Zhou, doctoral candidate; Liyan Qiu, research scientist; and Ashley Sterpka, doctoral candidate, Feixia Chu, associate professor, all at UNH, and Haiying Wang, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding, NIH COBRE program, and a Cole Neuroscience and Behavioral Faculty Research award.

The University of New Hampshire inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top-ranked programs in business, engineering, law, health and human services, liberal arts and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. As one of the nation's highest-performing research universities, UNH partners with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, and receives more than $110 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea and space.

University of New Hampshire

Related Autism Articles:

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism and the smell of fear
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense of smell may also play a central role in autism.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...