In the new study, published online Feb. 18 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers aimed to figure out how females fared who were born into families that appeared to have a higher genetic risk of autism symptoms. The study authors looked at more than 3,800 pairs of non-identical twins from Great Britain and more than 6,000 pairs of non-identical twins from Sweden. They then tried to figure out how a family risk of autism symptoms (not diagnosed autism itself) affected the twins.
They found evidence that it takes greater family risk -- meaning a higher genetic load -- for a girl to develop autism symptoms. In other words, girls appeared to be more resilient against the threat of autism symptoms compared to boys.
"There's more pressure on them to get it, and once they get it, it's more obvious than in their relatives," said Zimmerman.
Genetics researchers should spend more time studying families with autistic girls in order to better understand the disorder, the research team concluded. This gender-specific research might also help identify ways to prevent autism, they said.
For more about autism, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Elise Robinson, Sc.D., instructor, department of medicine, Harvard Medical School, and assistant in genetics, Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Andrew Zimmerman, M.D., director, clinical trials, Lurie Center for Autism, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Feb. 18, 2013, online, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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