Spring 2018

Autism and boys

Photography: Istockphoto/sdominick

“Girls seem to be ‘protected’ or resilient to genetic variants that are linked with autism in boys. We wanted to see why this might be the case. We looked at how mice that were engineered to have an important variant linked with autism learned a behavior that could lead to a reward, since we think this translates to the ability of people on the spectrum to successfully handle new situations. Males with the variant took a while to figure it out, but females with the variant were able to learn it quickly. It turns out the female brain handles these genetic variants very differently at a molecular level than the male brain. How that happens is something we are working on.”

—Nicola Grissom, assistant professor of psychology. Grissom studies the genetic causes of autism. She recently received the U’s Engdahl Family Research Award.