Towards robust and replicable sex differences in the intrinsic brain function of autism

  • Background: Marked sex differences in autism prevalence accentuate the need to understand the role of biological sex-related factors in autism. Efforts to unravel sex differences in the brain organization of autism have, however, been challenged by the limited availability of female data. Methods: We addressed this gap by using a large sample of males and females with autism and neurotypical (NT) control individuals (ABIDE; Autism: 362 males, 82 females; NT: 409 males, 166 females; 7-18 years). Discovery analyses examined main effects of diagnosis, sex and their interaction across five resting-state fMRI (R-fMRI) metrics (voxel-level Z > 3.1, cluster-level P < 0.01, gaussian random field corrected). Secondary analyses assessed the robustness of the results to different pre-processing approaches and their replicability in two independent samples: the EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP) and the Gender Explorations of Neurogenetics and Development to Advance Autism Research (GENDAAR). Results: Discovery analyses in ABIDE revealed significant main effects across the intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) of the posterior cingulate cortex, regional homogeneity and voxel-mirrored homotopic connectivity (VMHC) in several cortical regions, largely converging in the default network midline. Sex-by-diagnosis interactions were confined to the dorsolateral occipital cortex, with reduced VMHC in females with autism. All findings were robust to different pre-processing steps. Replicability in independent samples varied by R-fMRI measures and effects with the targeted sex-by-diagnosis interaction being replicated in the larger of the two replication samples – EU-AIMS LEAP. Limitations: Given the lack of a priori harmonization among the discovery and replication datasets available to date, sample-related variation remained and may have affected replicability. Conclusions: Atypical cross-hemispheric interactions are neurobiologically relevant to autism. They likely result from the combination of sex-dependent and sex-independent factors with a differential effect across functional cortical networks. Systematic assessments of the factors contributing to replicability are needed and necessitate coordinated large-scale data collection across studies. Competing Interest Statement: ADM receives royalties from the publication of the Italian version of the Social Responsiveness Scale Child Version by Organization Speciali, Italy. JKB has been a consultant to, advisory board member of, and a speaker for Takeda/Shire, Medice, Roche, and Servier. He is not an employee of any of these companies and not a stock shareholder of any of these companies. He has no other financial or material support, including expert testimony, patents, or royalties. CFB is director and shareholder in SBGneuro Ltd. TC has received consultancy from Roche and Servier and received book royalties from Guildford Press and Sage. DM has been a consultant to, and advisory board member, for Roche and Servier. He is not an employee of any of these companies, and not a stock shareholder of any of these companies. TB served in an advisory or consultancy role for Lundbeck, Medice, Neurim Pharmaceuticals, Oberberg GmbH, Shire, and Infectopharm. He received conference support or speakers fee by Lilly, Medice, and Shire. He received royalties from Hogrefe, Kohlhammer, CIP Medien, Oxford University Press; the present work is unrelated to these relationships. JT is a consultant to Roche. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

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Author:Dorothea L. FlorisORCiDGND, José Osmar Alves FilhoORCiD, Meng-Chuan LaiORCiD, Steve Giavasis, Marianne OldehinkelORCiD, Maarten MennesORCiD, Tony CharmanORCiDGND, Julian TillmannORCiDGND, Guillaume DumasORCiD, Christine EckerORCiD, Flavio Dell'AcquaORCiDGND, Tobias BanaschewskiORCiDGND, Carolin Ulrike MößnangORCiDGND, Simon Baron-CohenORCiDGND, Sarah Durston, Eva LothORCiDGND, Declan G. M. MurphyORCiD, Jan K. BuitelaarORCiDGND, Christian F. BeckmannORCiDGND, Michael P. MilhamORCiD, Adriana Di MartinoORCiD
Parent Title (English):bioRxiv
Document Type:Preprint
Date of Publication (online):2020/12/03
Date of first Publication:2020/12/03
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2023/07/23
Page Number:61
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY-NC-ND - Namensnennung - Nicht kommerziell - Keine Bearbeitungen 4.0 International