Researchers at Tel Aviv University sought to explain why more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism each year.

The answer, they discovered, may be all in the genes.

In a study published in the Translational Psychiatry, the TAU researchers said that the key to the gender difference in autism may be a gene discovered 15 years ago by TAU professor Illana Gozes.

Gozes said the gene, identified as ADNP, is important to brain function.

“The gene is responsible for creating the protein, also called ADNP, that is crucial for brain development in the fetus,” she said. “We later found that ADNP has significant expression in the hippocampus of the brain, in an area that is directly connected to memory and learning ability.”

Later studies by the TAU researchers also showed the gene was linked to two illnesses prevalent today: autism and Alzheimer’s.

Both diseases impact one gender more than the other; autism impacts three times more boys than girls and over 60 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women .

A result of further studies by the TAU team indicated that when ADNP was absent in males, they had an increased likelihood of developing autism. In females, the absence of the same gene resulted in an increase of Alzheimer’s in women.

“Logic would indicate that there is a connection, but we did not expect to find such large differences between males and females.” Gozes said. “The ADNP gene, by virtue of it being such a central gene, apparently plays a central role in the development of these diseases.”

Gomes said that while further study is needed, she believes her team has uncovered an important key to unlocking the secrets of both diseases.

She also stressed that her findings suggest that gender-specific clinical trials may lead to better insights and therapies for both autism and
Alzheimer’s.

“Following these findings we are continuing to investigate the brain mechanisms that cause these differences,” the TAU researcher said. “We believe that we’ve discovered an important key that is likely to lay the groundwork for the development of effective remedies in the future.”

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