A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2017 | Number 1, Volume 31

“Male” brain may up ASD risk for females

Having a brain anatomy typical of males may increase the odds of a female having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study. 

Christine Ecker and colleagues analyzed MRI scans from 98 individuals with high-functioning ASD and 98 neurotypical controls. All participants were right-handed, and all were between 18 and 42 years of age. 

Measuring cortical thickness, which differs for men and women, the researchers found that the probability of autism increased significantly among participants whose brain phenotype was more typical of males. For instance, they found that women with a characteristically “male” brain anatomy were approximately three times more likely to have ASD than women with a characteristically female brain anatomy. However, men with a characteristically female brain anatomy did not have a lower likelihood of having autism. 

The researchers next plan to study younger individuals with ASD, to see if they detect the same pattern. If so, they say, MRI scans measuring cortical thickness may aid in the early diagnosis of autism.


“Association between the probability of autism spectrum disorder and normative sex-related phenotypic diversity in brain structure,” Christine Ecker, Derek S. Andrews, Christina M. Gudbrandsen, Andre F. Marquand, Cedric E. Ginestet, Eileen M. Daly, Clodagh M. Murphy, Meng-Chuan Lai, Michael V. Lombardo, Amber N. V. Ruigrok, Edward T. Bullmore, John Suckling, Steven C. R. Williams, Simon Baron-Cohen, Michael C. Craig, and Declan G. M. Murphy, JAMA Psychiatry, February 8, 2017 (free online). Address: Christine Ecker, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy, Goethe University, Deutschordenstrasse 50, 60528 Frankfurt am Main, Germany, [email protected]


“Typical male brain anatomy associated with higher probability of autism spectrum disorder,” news release, JAMA Journal Networks, February 8, 2017.