Research Topic

Sex Differences in the Autistic Brain

About this Research Topic

Diagnostic characterizations of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have largely been based on the male phenotype. Thus, diagnostic assessments of core ASD symptoms show poorer sensitivity in females than males, resulting in missed or delayed identification and reduced availability of support services for females with ASD.

The field is just now beginning to turn the appropriate amount of attention to ASD phenomenology in girls and women. Emerging research shows ASD-related behaviors are qualitatively different in females, but detecting these differences is variable across the lifespan. Further, girls and women tend to present with more camouflaging behaviors, which have been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Research into the neurobiological underpinnings of such sex differences is still in its infancy, but understanding the brain-basis of sex differences in ASD will be paramount to eventually accurately diagnosing females and providing optimal sex-specific interventions.

Genetic and hormonal factors are likely implicated in the sex bias in ASD diagnosis and ASD-associated brain development, however, much more research is needed to understand their influences on sex differences across brain development. Differential deviations in brain growth trajectories between boys and girls with ASD have been reported, and research suggests puberty may also be a critical window of detecting peak brain-based sex differences. Most research is conducted in children and adolescents, but emerging research finds persistent brain differences even in older adults with ASD. Sex differences in this age group are completely under-explored. Functional and structural connectivity differences are some of the most promising brain findings across the lifespan in ASD and may be the most sensitive to sex differences as well.

As ASD is a neuropsychiatric disorder, brain-based diagnostics are the holy grail of precision medicine in this population but have proven elusive. Scarce availability of female datasets has hampered sex-differential biomarker discovery, but this is getting better now with the availability of larger datasets through publicly available repositories. Emerging research showing brain-based sex differences suggests that neuromodulation targets may also be sex dependent in ASD. Furthermore, if sex differences in ASD-related behaviors are due to differences in neurobiological underpinnings, this has wider implications for sex-specific pharmacological interventions.

The goal of this Research Topic is to vertically advance understanding of sex differences in the autistic brain in order to lay the groundwork for sex-specific, neurobiologically-informed diagnostics and interventions in ASD.

This Research Topic will be inclusive of various neuroimaging (e.g. MRI, EEG, MEG, PET, SPECT, NIRS, etc.), neuromodulation (e.g. TMS, tDCS, tES, DBS, etc.), neural modeling, neurogenomic, and neuroendocrine methodologies.

We welcome authors to organize their work around the following themes:

• neural sex differences across the lifespan;

• neural correlates of behavioral sex differences;

• sex-specific brain diagnostics, or sex-specific, brain-based interventions in ASD.

We welcome original research, systematic review, review, mini-review, hypothesis and theory, perspective, clinical trial, data report, brief research report, general commentary, or opinion manuscripts.


Keywords: Autism, MRI, Sex, EEG, Brain


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Diagnostic characterizations of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have largely been based on the male phenotype. Thus, diagnostic assessments of core ASD symptoms show poorer sensitivity in females than males, resulting in missed or delayed identification and reduced availability of support services for females with ASD.

The field is just now beginning to turn the appropriate amount of attention to ASD phenomenology in girls and women. Emerging research shows ASD-related behaviors are qualitatively different in females, but detecting these differences is variable across the lifespan. Further, girls and women tend to present with more camouflaging behaviors, which have been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Research into the neurobiological underpinnings of such sex differences is still in its infancy, but understanding the brain-basis of sex differences in ASD will be paramount to eventually accurately diagnosing females and providing optimal sex-specific interventions.

Genetic and hormonal factors are likely implicated in the sex bias in ASD diagnosis and ASD-associated brain development, however, much more research is needed to understand their influences on sex differences across brain development. Differential deviations in brain growth trajectories between boys and girls with ASD have been reported, and research suggests puberty may also be a critical window of detecting peak brain-based sex differences. Most research is conducted in children and adolescents, but emerging research finds persistent brain differences even in older adults with ASD. Sex differences in this age group are completely under-explored. Functional and structural connectivity differences are some of the most promising brain findings across the lifespan in ASD and may be the most sensitive to sex differences as well.

As ASD is a neuropsychiatric disorder, brain-based diagnostics are the holy grail of precision medicine in this population but have proven elusive. Scarce availability of female datasets has hampered sex-differential biomarker discovery, but this is getting better now with the availability of larger datasets through publicly available repositories. Emerging research showing brain-based sex differences suggests that neuromodulation targets may also be sex dependent in ASD. Furthermore, if sex differences in ASD-related behaviors are due to differences in neurobiological underpinnings, this has wider implications for sex-specific pharmacological interventions.

The goal of this Research Topic is to vertically advance understanding of sex differences in the autistic brain in order to lay the groundwork for sex-specific, neurobiologically-informed diagnostics and interventions in ASD.

This Research Topic will be inclusive of various neuroimaging (e.g. MRI, EEG, MEG, PET, SPECT, NIRS, etc.), neuromodulation (e.g. TMS, tDCS, tES, DBS, etc.), neural modeling, neurogenomic, and neuroendocrine methodologies.

We welcome authors to organize their work around the following themes:

• neural sex differences across the lifespan;

• neural correlates of behavioral sex differences;

• sex-specific brain diagnostics, or sex-specific, brain-based interventions in ASD.

We welcome original research, systematic review, review, mini-review, hypothesis and theory, perspective, clinical trial, data report, brief research report, general commentary, or opinion manuscripts.


Keywords: Autism, MRI, Sex, EEG, Brain


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

20 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

20 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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