Autism Research: September 11, 2016 Week in Review

ResearchGender bias ranks high in autism ‘Reading the mind in the eyes’ test

In the largest ever study of its kind, scientists have discovered a serious gender predilection for autism. Published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, lead author Professor Simon Baron Cohen of University of Cambridge and his team studied 400 men and women diagnosed with either Asperger’s syndrome or autism. The online test that the participants took entailed looking at a selection of photos of just an eye and choosing from 4 words given, to best describe what the person in the photo was thinking or feeling.

The results of the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ test showed expected predilection for women scoring higher than men in typical adults while this gender bias was absent amongst autism adults. Rather, both men and women with autism showed the extreme male type response to the test. These results give further impetus to the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism that has been doing the rounds for a while now. The test is designed to unmask subtle differences in individuals to social sensitivity. It measures empathy by gauging its cognitive component, i.e. ability to recognize someone’s state of mind.

Prof. Cohen said that such differences were observed in an Empathy quotient test done last year as well to self-assess social sensitivity and the Systemizing Quotient test, another self-report tool to assess aptitude for understanding systems. The team of researchers also said that this finding might give us deeper insights into understanding why children with autism avoid eye contact and do not adapt well to rapid changes in their environments.

Teaching children to read expressions, non-verbal emotions might become the next important step in autism therapy.

Journal Reference: Simon Baron-Cohen, Daniel C. Bowen, Rosemary J. Holt, Carrie Allison, Bonnie Auyeung, Michael V. Lombardo, Paula Smith, Meng-Chuan Lai. The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test: Complete Absence of Typical Sex Difference in ~400 Men and Women with Autism. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (8): e0136521 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136521

Singing female mice provide clues to autism

The male of every species does something to please the female, be it display physical superiority or as in case of mice, sing. Scientists have known for decades now that male mice sing ‘love songs’ to attract female mice when the time is right. New research by scientist Joshua Neunuebel has found that the female mice respond to these songs by singing back! Conducted at the University of Delaware, the study was published this week in the journal eLife. No one knows what those songs are, or what exactly the mice communicate, but its amply clear based on Joshua’s research, that its well beyond human hearing range and probably for good reason.

Using an array of sophisticated microphones and sound analysis chamber, Neunuebel collected, analyzed and interpreted various mice sounds ranging from 35 to 125 kilohertz, well beyond the range we can hear. He developed equations to analyze which sound came from which mouse. The researchers are hopeful that now that this platform has been developed, using mice communication much greater research can be done to understand brain mechanics and neural circuits underlying social communication. This might help figure out therapies and develop a better understanding for autism as well.

During the research, the team also found that responsive females slowed down so that the male could catch up while the unresponsive ones continues movements at a rapid pace.

Journal Reference: Joshua P Neunuebel, Adam L Taylor, Ben J Arthur, SE Roian Egnor. Female mice ultrasonically interact with males during courtship displays. eLife, 2015; 4 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.06203