Sex differences and Autism: Brain function during verbal fluency and mental rotation

Felix D C C Beacher, Eugenia Radulescu, Ludovico Minati, Simon Baron-Cohen, Michael V. Lombardo, Meng Chuan Lai, Anne Walker, Dawn Howard, Marcus A. Gray, Neil A. Harrison, Hugo D. Critchley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) affect more males than females. This suggests that the neurobiology of autism: 1) may overlap with mechanisms underlying typical sex-differentiation or 2) alternately reflect sex-specificity in how autism is expressed in males and females. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test these alternate hypotheses. Fifteen men and fourteen women with Asperger syndrome (AS), and sixteen typically developing men and sixteen typically developing women underwent fMRI during performance of mental rotation and verbal fluency tasks. All groups performed the tasks equally well. On the verbal fluency task, despite equivalent task-performance, both males and females with AS showed enhanced activation of left occipitoparietal and inferior prefrontal activity compared to controls. During mental rotation, there was a significant diagnosis-by-sex interaction across occipital, temporal, parietal, middle frontal regions, with greater activation in AS males and typical females compared to AS females and typical males. These findings suggest a complex relationship between autism and sex that is differentially expressed in verbal and visuospatial domains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere38355
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 12 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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