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Autism Speaks Funded Study Utilizes Novel Method to Study Sex Differences

November 06, 2007

The brain circuitry that makes males different from females, especially in terms of behavior, is virtually unknown. Yet that circuitry might play a central role in autism because one of the few clues we have about autism is that it is four times more common in boys. Testing different hypotheses about what causes differences in the male vs. female brains is done much more simply and quickly using animal models. Previous research has mapped out the location, connections, and wiring of the entire nervous system of the C. elegans roundworm, thus providing a unique model to better understand the neurobiological basis of sex-differences in the developing nervous system.

In this case, University of Rochester researchers Douglas Portman, Ph.D., and Kyung-Hwa Lee, have focused on sensory stimuli, as children with autism often are hypersensitive to sensory overload. Because most of the genes and molecules are conserved between humans and worms, this is a very powerful and fast screening method used to get an idea of what to focus on in human studies.

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