UNH Researchers Identify Role Sex-Biased Protein May Play in Autism

UNH Today: Research Articles

UNH researchers 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 sex-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.”
Chen says that this research is still in the early phase with mouse models and more studies are need but he is hopeful that it may open up a new research direction and one day could possibly lead to a new pharmacological treatment.
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, obesity and ASDs. 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 sex. They identified 204 proteins that were more highly regulated in females than in males. Of those, a large percentage (31 percent) were associated with autism.
“Our results suggest …

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