While modern society strives to reach equality between men and women, the scientific community has often raised the question of whether gender differences could affect our health and well-being. A new Israeli study shows that gender differences affect autism and Alzheimer’s disease; its results could potentially help in improving treatment for other illnesses as well.
Autism and Alzheimer’s are cognitive-physical conditions that pose great difficulties for the patient, family and friends. While men are more likely to have autism with a ratio of three to one, women are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, medicine can only offer limited treatments for these conditions, but this new Tel Aviv University study could shed light on how these diseases are formed, and more specifically, on what drives their development – so that doctors can better treat them.
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The new research focuses on how a certain gene called ADNP – which regulates 400 proteins involved in the development of the human body – is causing gender-specific tendencies towards autism and Alzheimer’s disease. This means that to find a cure, men and women should be tested separately because they may respond differently to treatment.
Male and female mice have different cognitive abilities
In the study, researchers removed the ADNP gene from mice, and compared them to mice that had the gene. The mice showed gender-specific learning and memory differences: Male mice that had the gene removed expressed degraded object recognition, which means they could not identify objects well. They also exhibited degraded social memory.
Female mice of the same test group, however, showed social deficiency without degraded object recognition. “The gene’s gender-dependent expression changes male and female chemical tendencies toward different neurological disorders,” TAU’s Prof. Ilana Gozes said in a statement. “Male and female mice may look the same and their brains may look the same, but they are not. When the expression of ADNP is different, it may cause different behaviors and different cognitive abilities.”
Providing new hope for patients and their families
Gozes has studied ADNP in the past 15 years, and her new findings may be just enough to propel a revolution in drug research for autism and Alzheimer’s disease. “This study emphasizes the need to analyze men and women separately in clinical trials to find cures for diseases because they may respond differently,” she says.
While further investigation into gender differences in conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease is needed, the researchers believe that this study could provide a stepping stone in finding a cure for autism and Alzheimer’s. Says Gozes: “If we understand how ADNP acts differently in males and females, we can try to optimize drugs for potential future therapeutics to treat both autism and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Research for the study was led by Prof. Ilana Gozes, and conducted by graduate students Anna Malishkevich, Noy Amram, and Gal Hacohen-Kleiman, in collaboration with post-doctoral fellow Dr. Iddo Magen, and staff scientist Dr. Eliezer Giladi.