JUL 07, 2018 02:20 PM PDT

Cause of Gender Differences in Neurodevelopmental Disorders is ID'ed

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Gender is known to be a factor in the development of neurological disorders. It’s been established that boys are at greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems early in life like autism spectrum disorder, early-onset schizophrenia, and hyperactivity, while girls are more likely to experience anxiety, depression or eating disorders, which tend to happen after puberty. During pregnancy, negative environmental influences like stress, drug exposure or maternal infection have bigger impacts on male fetuses. Now, researchers believe they may have learned why these differences arise.

Image credit: Max Pixel

Reporting in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine led by Tracy Bale have found important differences in gene expression in males and females. Those changes trace back to a molecule called O-linked N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT), which exerts its effect through epigenetics, modifiable tags that are added to the genome, altering gene activity.

OGT regulates an epigenetic modification called H3K27me3. The scientists found that when levels of that modifier are high in the placenta, stress that the mother experiences does less harm to the fetus. That reveals a way through which females gain greater resilience against stress.

"This pathway could help explain why we see this profound neurodevelopmental difference in humans," explained Dr. Bale. "OGT and H3K27me3 in the placenta are crucial to a lot of protein-encoding that occurs during pregnancy, and so this process has a lot of downstream effects. The OGT gene is on the X chromosome, and seems to provide a level of protection for the female fetus to perturbations in the maternal environment."

The intersection of stress and neurodevelopmental disorders like schizophrenia and autism is a major focus of Bale’s research. Previous work by Bale has shown that the stress experienced by fathers can change their sperm and that in turn can have an effect on brain development in their offspring. 

Additionally, Bale has shown that chronic mild stress in male mice can reduce the hormonal response to stress in their offspring. That process has been connected to neuropsychiatric illnesses like PTSD. This research suggests that even mild environmental factors can change the development of organisms.

Learn more about the sex differences in the brain from the video above, featuring Bridget Nugent of the University of Pennsylvania

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via University of Maryland, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
DEC 06, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 06, 2019
Gene-Editing Breakthrough for Cervical Cancer
Researchers at the The Menzies Health Institute Queensland have found a way to use gene therapy CRISPR-Cas9 to treat cervical cancer. The first treatment o...
DEC 06, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 06, 2019
New RNA Observation Shows Previously Unkown Attachment to Sugar
Scientists in the Bertozzi at Staford University have published surprising observations of glycan sugars attached directly to RNA during glycosylation.&nbs...
DEC 06, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 06, 2019
The Key to Living Longer is REST
  Scientists at Harvard Medical School show new evidence that the key to living longer is to get plenty of sleep.   The researchers were mapping ...
DEC 06, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 06, 2019
Understanding How Loose RNA Molecules Help Rejuvenate Skin
This work may help develop new treatments for skin that is aging or damaged by wounds or burns....
DEC 06, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 06, 2019
How Nature Creates a Multitude of Leaf Shapes
Different plants exhibit leaves with very diverse shapes, and now scientists know how nature does it....
DEC 06, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 06, 2019
ADHD and Autism Share the Same Genes
In the US, 1 in every 59 children has autism, with 1 in every 20 having ADHD. Now, researchers from Denmark’s national psychiatric project, iPSYCH, h...
Loading Comments...